Sheriff says he'll run again - this time as a Democrat

GOP officials vow to defeat former Republican in 2002

Howard County

November 06, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Sheriff Charles M. Cave is planning to run for re-election next year as a Democrat - a change in party affiliation that has irked Republican leaders and resulted in their vow to defeat him.

The soft-spoken, first-term sheriff, who won election as a Republican in 1998, made the switch official in August and said he is planning to file his candidacy in the next several days.

While local Democrats welcomed the addition of an incumbent to next year's ticket for countywide races, Cave's actions left local Republicans feeling betrayed. Party officials talked publicly about the sheriff's decision during a meeting last week to discuss replacing Republican Sen. Martin G. Madden, who has said he will resign Jan. 7.

"The Republican Party will find a very good candidate for sheriff on the Republican ticket, and we'll do everything possible to work toward Chuck Cave's defeat," Louis M. Pope, the county GOP chairman, said yesterday. "Obviously, we don't appreciate it when people switch parties."

But Wendy Fiedler, the county Democratic Party chairwoman, said she found it interesting that the local GOP had no problems accepting past affiliation changes - as long as they were Democrat to Republican. Register of Wills Kay K. Hartleb and former Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo both switched to the Republican Party in the mid-1990s.

"It really is just Chuck Cave coming home to the party he came from."

Cave, who was an unaffiliated voter for years and a Democrat from 1990 to 1995, said the switch was a "personal decision" for him, saying he has always been "middle of the road" politically and holds a largely nonpolitical job.

Although he would not elaborate on the party change, he did say that one of the "many" reasons for the switch came from a desire to show support for County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat.

Whether as a Democrat or a Republican, he said, his main goal for the job remains the same - to maintain a professional department.

"I want these next four years to obviously be better than the last four," said Cave, a 64-year-old Ellicott City resident. " ... I want to continue to give the people of this county the very best service that this county can offer."

Cave, a retired detective sergeant for the Maryland State Police, joined the sheriff's office a decade ago as second in command to newly elected Chiuchiolo during a chaotic time for a department that was trying to fix financial and management problems.

Cave said he registered as a Democrat in 1990 because that was Chiuchiolo's party affiliation. He changed to Republican five years later when Chiuchiolo made the switch.

"I was in the same party. That was just a given," Cave said. Chiuchiolo appointed him to the chief deputy slot, Cave said, and "his politics [were] usually my politics."

When Chiuchiolo retired in 1998, Cave ran for sheriff on the Republican ticket, defeating Democrat G. Russell Walters, an 80-year-old former Howard County police chief.

Ask Cave to point to his accomplishments during the first three years of his term, and he highlights one of the department's biggest misses - a sheriff's employee's data entry error in 1999 that allowed Richard Wayne Spicknall to buy a gun despite the fact that he was the subject of a domestic violence restraining order. Spicknall fatally shot his two young children a few days after picking up the gun.

The scrutiny from that mistake led to the creation of a separate unit to deal with domestic violence matters, he said.

"The fact is, it happened, and everyone knows it did, and we certainly have gone to great lengths to make sure it never happens again," Cave said.

There's no question he wants four more years in the job, he said.

Pope said yesterday that the Republican Party has contacted two people, whom he would not name, to run against Cave next year. One has police experience and the other has military police experience, he said.

Carole Fisher, who served as local Democratic Party chairwoman during the 1998 election, welcomed Cave's decision to rejoin the party after a six-year absence.

"We're glad to have him. I think Chuck's done well. The department is run well," said Fisher, now the recording secretary of the statewide Democratic Party.

But some Howard County Republicans said it is difficult to accept Cave's party change because it happened while he was holding elective office.

"Is he a Democrat or a Republican? I guess that's a case Sheriff Cave will have to make to the public during the next campaign," Madden said.

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