Candidate just kept on trucking Winner: B. Daniel Riley rode his rusty pickup to a seat in the Assembly -- on his fourth election bid.

November 15, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

B. Daniel Riley's old truck held out until the end.

His rusty, 1951 Ford pickup hauled the Edgewood civic activist down miles of county roads in his latest campaign for House of Delegates, Riley's first successful bid in four consecutive tries.

After a dozen years on the campaign trail, Riley is so happy to have won the 34th District seat that he doesn't mind parking his truck, which has become a local fixture.

"The truck turned out to be a great way for people to identify me," Riley said recently as he stood beside Route 24 in Bel Air with a sign thanking supporters. "But you could be standing out here in a clown suit, and if you didn't know the issues, people weren't going to vote for you."

The 52-year-old Democrat's victory was seen by many in his economically diverse district as long overdue.

"People really appreciated someone who -- even when he got knocked down -- got up, brushed himself off and kept going," said Bob Chance, an environmental educator at the Harford Glen Outdoor Education Center who has known Riley for almost 20 years.

Community involvement

Riley, with his denim shirts, suspenders and low-slung hat, is a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Magnolia Middle School with a long-standing reputation as a down-to-earth person who cares deeply for the U.S. 40 community where he lives.

He has worked with environmentalists, helped form a community group in Edgewood and served on a citizens advisory commission set up in 1993 to explore alternative methods for disposing of mustard gas at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"He's dedicated, and he is a no-nonsense guy," said Chance.

He gained that attitude early. Born in London shortly after World War II, Benjamin Daniel Riley weighed in at 3 pounds, 5 ounces. He said he was not expected to survive.

"They gave me the last rites. My mother lived in an area that had been heavily bombed, and I was born undernourished," he said with a laugh, patting his well-padded midsection.

His mother and stepfather moved to Harford County in 1965, and Riley at first had difficulty settling into what was then a rural county.

But he soon came to enjoy the rolling hills and peacefulness of life in Harford. In 1973, he married, and he and his wife, Linda, settled into a house just outside the gates of the proving ground's Edgewood facility.

'Help the people'

It didn't take long for him to acquire a reputation as a civic activist. And after a spate of murders in his neighborhood a dozen years ago, Riley decided to run for office on an anti-crime and environmental platform.

"I'm a people person, and I really wanted to help the people," Riley said. "I thought I would give it a try."

That started a grass-roots campaign that took years to build momentum. In 1986, he lost the primary by 150 votes, and in 1990 he also came close. In 1994, he won the primary but lost in the general election.

Undaunted, Riley was back this year knocking on doors, shaking hands -- and waving from the bed of his truck on the roadside.

"From name recognition, years of community activism and being well-known, he was able to win," said George Harrison, spokesman for outgoing County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann. "I guess his time had come."

Supporters said personal touches made the difference in Riley's campaign: his home phone number on his campaign literature; his gratitude for the small amounts of money that supporters pressed into his hand; his former students working for him.

"We ran on a shoestring, and I would do it again in a minute," said Eugene Gibson, who has volunteered for all of Riley's campaigns. "We had faith, we had hope, and we knew that Dan was a good man who would do well as a delegate."

And there was the truck.

"I remember knocking on one door and a kid came out," Riley recalled. "I introduced myself, and when he went to tell his parents, I heard his dad say, 'Does he have his truck with him?' People just love that truck."

Riley is one of two Democrats in Harford's five-member House delegation and one of 28 freshman delegates in the 141-member House. His district includes Joppatowne, Edgewood, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace, Abingdon and parts of Bel Air.

"I don't have any great plans to change the world when I get to Annapolis," Riley said. "I want to take it one problem at a time."

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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