Evans defeat called costly Losing candidate lost GOP voter confidence, some observers say

'I have no regrets'

Switching parties, campaign strategies blamed for loss

September 23, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

She took a huge political risk, abandoning the party that had elected her twice in a gamble to dethrone Anne Arundel County's most powerful politician for what some considered reasons of personal animosity.

County Councilwoman Diane R. Evans lost not only last week's primary, failing to win the Democratic nomination to challenge her bitter rival, Republican County Executive John G. Gary on Nov. 3.

She also lost the confidence of many of the Republican voters who had made her a rising star in their party, according to some local GOP leaders.

But she didn't lose her stoicism or her love of public service. In her first interview since her defeat by Democrat Janet S. Owens Sept. 15, Evans said she doesn't know what kind of work she'll pursue when her eight-year term on the council ends in November.

But she added she doesn't have any regrets about rolling the dice with her political career.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed. But I have no regrets about running," said the 49-year-old former child support worker from Arnold. "I worked as hard as I could to win, and I don't place blame on anybody but myself. I had eight wonderful years as a county councilman and I will always cherish that."

Evans said she doesn't know whether she will run for office again. She said she intends to continue working with the public ** in some way.

Opinions vary as to whether Evans has any chance of continuing in local politics, now that she's left her old party and lost with her new one.

Helen Fister, chairman of the county's Republican Party, said that Evans' defection in April and her attacks on the Republican incumbent have probably wrecked any future she might have had in the GOP.

"If she does a mea culpa and says that she made a mistake, and then spends the next four years making up for it, she may have a chance," Fister said. "Otherwise, I don't think she has any future at all in the Republican Party."

State Del. Phillip R. Bissett, a Republican from the county's 30th District, said changing parties only five months before the election came across as insincere and gave the "appearance of a sudden change of philosophy."

"I think this is a chapter that both her and the Republican Party want closed," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. "Let's give it some time for the wounds to heal."

Marcia Richard, chairman of Anne Arundel's Democratic Party, said that Evans would still make a good candidate in that party for state Senate.

"I think her extensive experience in government could be used successfully in almost any office, whether it's county or state," said Richard. "She has a very bright future ahead of her, and I think she's a real asset to the Democratic Party."

Evans lost by a slim margin, capturing 49 percent of the approximately 40,000 votes cast. Owens, the county's former director of aging, was backed by the teachers union and won 51 percent.

The tightness of the race made for an anxious night at Evans' campaign headquarters in a Severna Park mall last Tuesday night. The mood was a bit frustrated, with more than a hundred of her signs having been stolen or mutilated the night before the election.

There was also concern about the teachers showing their muscle, their union leaders calling thousands of their members the night before the election to remind them to vote against Evans.

Then, as the results came trickling in showing Owens with a lead, Evans kept hoping that she'd pull it out. Her supporters became quiet, expecting every phone call to bring a surge of votes from one of the last remaining precincts.

At 11 p.m., Evans finally called Owens to concede.

"I just congratulated her and wished her well," Evans said. "She said something about party unity, which I didn't quite catch. She was obviously celebrating."

Critics of Evans' campaign have questioned the wisdom of her party-switching; the strategies of her campaign manager, Maury Chaput; and the lack of Evans' last name on her signs that read "Definitely Diane!"

"I think she got some bad advice," said Carol Petrosky, a teacher at the Rutheason Special Education Center in Millersville who voted for Owens. "She was campaigning only against John Gary instead of Janet Owens, perhaps because she thought that our support for Owens wasn't strong. In fact, it was quite strong."

Evans, who served as County Council chairman under Gary for three years, said she was motivated to stop what she considered Gary's unethical and unprofessional conduct as county executive. Gary has said it was Evans who was unprofessional. The two stopped meeting for more than a year, with Evans claiming Gary had slammed the door in her face.

Evans defended her campaign manager. " We had a mix of factors that nobody could have predicted," she said.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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