Give Fifth District what it would want


January 16, 2000|By NORRIS WEST

ONE MONTH makes a lot of difference.

In Anne Arundel County, a month's time means lawmakers, and not voters, will elect the 5th Council District's next representative.

Had County Councilman Cliff R. Roop died 12 months or fewer into his term, a special election would have been held to replace him. That important provision is etched into the County Charter.

But Roop died 13 months after he was elected, so there will be no vote of the people.

The charter sets guidelines for the council's vote. The council, which has a 5-1 Democratic majority, must select a Republican (because Roop was a Republican) who lives in the 5th District. That area includes Severna Park and Arnold, and part of the Broadneck Peninsula and Millersville.

The council should feel committed, obligated to choose someone they truly believe the district's voters would select if they could.

So what would voters do?

When they chose Roop, they selected a service station owner and baseball coach who was active in local civic affairs and politics. He was concerned about small businesses. He attracted an enthusiastic following; supporters called themselves the "Roop Troop" and barked "Roop, Roop, Roop" at his December 1998 inauguration.

He won 60 percent of the vote in the general election, but squeaked by in the primary, defeating Cathleen M. Vitale -- chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee -- by only 54 of the more than 5,000 votes cast.

After taking office, Roop appeared to be a thoughtful lawmaker who said he favored policy over party -- a smart thing for a Republican in a council minority.

The district won't get another Roop, but some good candidates are likely to be in the running. The council has heard from as many as 20 people interested in the job. Don't expect all of them to follow through. Among the possible contenders are two 5th District Republicans who have sought the position.

Ms. Vitale has submitted her resume, and Lawrence Masterson, a retired National Security Agency official who also ran for seat, has said he would decide soon whether to apply.

Then there is Ted Janssen, a management consultant who was Roop's campaign manager. He plans to enter the race. Attorney Perry L. Weed, who has served as special assistant to U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, already has submitted his resume.

The citizen-legislator position pays $28,660 a year plus expenses.

"The big question is do you try to replicate Cliff Roop the best you can or is there some other standard?" said 7th District Councilman John Klocko III.

Duplication has happened before, Mr. Klocko points out. Sen. Jack Cade was a moderate Republican who knew how to get things done in Annapolis. When he died in November 1996, the Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee selected Robert Neall, who was a GOP moderate in the same mold. He was Mr. Cade's mentee.

Del. Aris T. Allen was a different story. When he died in 1991, he left no mold. He was the county's first African-American to serve in the legislature and Maryland's first African-American to run for statewide office. (In 1978, he was the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate J. Glenn Beall Jr.) He committed suicide at Age 80 after learning that he had cancer. His suicide note recommended a black businessman to succeed him. But the county's GOP chose a 34-year-old white warehouseman.

Duplicating Roop may prove futile. A council member's first year is spent learning the job, so it is impossible to know what kind of lawmaker he would have become.

It makes more sense to ascertain the district's needs and desires and select the best advocate for those interests.

The Feb. 1 election of Roop's replacement is important because the Council will impose an appointee on the district who will serve almost three years and gain the advantages of incumbency in 2002.

Council members must do their best to find out what the district wants. They can't be mindreaders, but they could try. Perhaps they could use the county's newly developed Web site ( to get input.

Applicants are required to submit their resumes to Judy P. Holmes, the council's administrative officer, by Jan. 27.

On that day, the Council will interview applicants. They will not make a decision for themselves. They will make a deicison the 5th District will have to live with for a long time.

Norris West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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