GOP's Adler to challenge Robey

Businessman claims unified party support in run for executive

January 27, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Seated in his Victorian-style paymaster's office at Savage Mill, his dark suit matching his dark, neatly cropped hair, Steven H. Adler looks the successful businessman he is known to be.

Now, at 49, a Clarksville resident with a wife and two grown sons, the quiet, controlled man from Prince George's County is "answering a call" from Howard Republicans to run for county executive. He's hoping to wrest the job from incumbent Democrat James N. Robey, a man he says he admires.

"Up until very recently, I never thought I'd run for political office or be a politician," he said, though he worked in Dennis R. Schrader's county executive campaign in 1998.

Before he agreed to run, Adler said, he was assured of unified support - verbally and financially - from county Republicans for his first try at public office. His formal announcement is scheduled for Thursday.

Still, he said, he has taken no polls and hasn't chosen a campaign manager, and he wouldn't reveal how much of his own money he expects to spend.

"I'm going to run hard to the end," he said, adding that he will knock on doors and wave signs, not just spend money.

Some of the businesspeople who attended a $100-a-ticket fund-raiser for Robey last week, Adler said, will later support him, and are just naturally cautious now.

He said of Robey, "I think Jim and I really have a friendship and a natural respect for one another." Adler recently offered to resign from his two volunteer public posts, but Robey told him that would not be necessary, he said. Adler is co-chairman of the U.S. 1 revitalization task force and is on the board of directors of the county's Economic Development Authority.

And don't look for a negative campaign, Adler said. He will criticize things like the county's looming budget deficit and advocate for a stronger leadership style but will engage in no personal attacks.

"I will do nothing but praise Jim's commitment" to public service, Adler says, referring to Robey's 35 years as a county police officer, police chief and county executive. But he said that's not enough.

"At the end of the day, we need to be effective. It's not enough to just be a nice guy."

Robey, he said, "stayed very popular and said yes to too many people."

Despite that criticism, Adler offered no specific solutions to the traditional Howard County dilemma: How to spend more each year on education, public safety, roads and parks without increasing taxes.

The county's financial bind should have been anticipated, Adler said, predicting that Robey not only will be forced to use the county's "rainy day fund," but also will have to raise taxes.

"We [on the Economic Development Authority] knew 2001 was going to be a tough year. As a citizen and businessperson, an $18 million deficit is not the result people are looking for."

More surprising, Adler said, is the lack of public reaction to the news. "Jim is very effective. He spit out the numbers, glossed over it and moved on."

Adler said he is waiting for the other shoe to drop - the budget cuts that are certain this year and next. Cuts must be made and taxes not raised, Adler said, though he wants to pay starting teachers more to attract the best and find ways to alleviate the county's worsening traffic congestion.

And he wants to find new ways to provide housing that civil servants can afford.

Robey, Adler said, "has spent his career as part of the system, part of the bureaucracy." What's needed is a fresh approach, using "public-private partnerships" to solve tough problems, he said.

Adler grew up in Prince George's County and started working as a teen-ager with his father, a clothing salesman, in a Washington store. He later earned an associate's degree from Prince George's Community College.

He founded a clothing chain catering to big and tall men, sold it, took a couple of years off, then went to Savage in 1995 to help turn around the struggling conversion of the old manufacturing mill. He runs the mill now, along with another big-and-tall clothing operation.

Along the way, he has become involved in a string of county-based foundations and civic and economic interest groups.

"In every business I've owned, I go in and talk to the workers," he said, to learn about the operation, make judgments and build a more efficient operation. That's what he plans to do in Howard County as county executive, he said.

"I'm not sure as a county we're effective at motivating and training the county work force," he said.

"I feel I need to lead by example. I need to lead that charge." To get more mass transit 10 or 15 years from now, Howard's executive has to make noise now, he said.

Robey, he said "likes to stay below the radar screen. At some point, you need to speak up."

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