John Gary's worst enemy Anne Arundel: County executive has a decent record, but an image problem to overcome.

September 25, 1998

JOHN G. GARY would be a much more popular politician if he stuck to policy-making and refrained from picking fights. His propensity to pop off at political enemies, real and imagined, has saddled him with a reputation as a bully and overshadowed his deft management of Anne Arundel County.

Mr. Gary came into office four years ago with a reputation as a conservative ideologue. He was known for his blunt, inflammatory rhetoric on hot-button issues.

In the executive's office, he turned out be pragmatic rather than a doctrinaire decision-maker. For example, when he learned that transportation was an obstacle preventing welfare recipients from obtaining work, Mr. Gary started a "wheels to work" program, which enabled welfare recipients to purchase surplus county vehicles. While he is a strong believer in "law and order," Mr. Gary has also pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into drug treatment.

Even though his opponents paint Mr. Gary as stinting on education spending, appropriations for the school system have risen from $408.6 million in fiscal year 1995 to $454.2 million this year. Last year, he directed that half the surplus be spent on education and is indicating he will do the same this year. Mr. Gary has also channeled tens of millions of dollars into school construction.

Nonetheless, Mr. Gary goes into November's general election burdened with a reputation -- of his own making -- for fighting acrimoniously with educators. Mr. Gary obviously wants to change the public's perception. He has made up with the school board and Superintendent Carol S. Parham, vowing to "bite his tongue."

Like the governor of the opposite party, Mr. Gary's problem isn't his record as much as his image. Changing perceptions of his first term will be Mr. Gary's re-election focus. He needs to convince the public that his actions are more important than his words.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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