Challenger leading in race for sheriff Strasdauskas, a former deputy, was fired by Pepersack

Election 1998

November 04, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

Democrat Anne K. Strasdauskas, a former speed skater and deputy sheriff, was poised for an upset over Republican incumbent Norman M. Pepersack Jr., last night, leading the two-term sheriff by more than 5,000 votes, with 7,800 absentee ballots remaining to be counted tomorrow.

Strasdauskas -- who was fired by Pepersack last year for failing to turn in her radio on time -- led by 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent for the incumbent.

"Exciting doesn't begin to describe this," said Strasdauskas, a political unknown just a few months ago. "My only thought is of all the deputies at home tonight dancing on their tables."

Pepersack did not return several calls last night.

In the seven weeks between the primary and general elections, the campaign for the $70,000-a-year job was marked by a court battle, an inquiry by the state prosecutor, a stolen campaign truck and allegations over a low-budget murder mystery movie.

First, the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing more than 60 deputy sheriffs, questioned the legality of Pepersack's release of his opponent's disciplinary records as a campaign tactic.

The state prosecutor also made a brief inquiry into Pepersack's decision to give a Sun reporter details from the charges that Strasdauskas had yet to see.

The prosecutor also looked into the appearance of Pepersack and three deputies in uniform in a murder mystery movie. No criminal investigation was conducted, and the inquiry was dropped.

Two weeks before the election, Strasdauskas reported the theft of her campaign truck, prompting Pepersack to imply she had staged the crime.

The truck was recovered four days later by Strasdauskas and a campaign volunteer on a street in Essex, minus her campaign signs and volunteer lists. Her credit cards and checkbook, however, were still in the truck.

Strasdauskas, 44, decided to run against her boss after she was fired in December 1997 for failing to turn her radio in on time. She won the September primary with a door-to-door campaign, a few handmade signs and a few hundred dollars in campaign finances.

When a Harford County circuit judge reversed her firing shortly before the primary, he also awarded her 10 months back pay, giving Strasdauskas the cash she needed to finance her campaign.

By the general election, she said she had spent between $4,000 and $5,000 on more-professional signs and literature. She also resigned her job to campaign full time.

Pepersack, 64, used the $18,000 he raised for signs, campaign fliers and advertisements in newspapers that stressed his eight years as sheriff overseeing a department of 67 deputies.

The sheriff's unorthodox release of his rival's disciplinary records helped push Strasdauskas out of obscurity. Pepersack said he believed the records were public -- and he was backed up by an assistant attorney general who advised him the records were not confidential.

The other county courthouse races were relatively quiet.

In the Register of Wills race, former Orphans' Court Chief Judge Grace G. Connolly led with nearly all the votes counted by 59 percent to 41 percent for Republican Patrick McDonough.

In the Clerk of the Court campaign, Suzanne Mensh, a Democrat and 12-year incumbent, was leading Republican newcomer Ken D. Ridgeway II by 63 percent to 37 percent.

In the race for three Orphans' Court slots, Democrats Salvatore N. Butta, Julie Ensor and Theresa Lawler were leading their three Republican opponents by wide margins.

Republican State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor, who has held her office since 1975, ran unopposed, as did Circuit judges J. William Hinkel and John F. Fader II.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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