GOP delegate due to be chosen

Ranks split over who should fill seat

Howard County

January 29, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Tonight's likely the payoff for Anthony C. Wisniewski -- one way or the other.

The 28-year-old lawyer's bold attempt to persuade Howard County's Republican leaders to name him to a vacant House of Delegates seat instead of veteran GOP activist Gail H. Bates could be rewarded -- or slapped back -- tonight. Republican state central committees for Howard and Montgomery counties are due to meet in Rockville for an unusual joint closed-door session to hash out the issue.

"To be honest with you, I don't know what to expect. I don't think anybody knows what to expect," Wisniewski said yesterday.

Wisniewski's aggressive campaign for the seat has created a split in GOP ranks between the two counties' parties. That could give Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, the ultimate say in filling the seat -- exactly what the minority party does not want. If both county committees agree on a name, Glendening is required to appoint that person.

Howard GOP Chairman Louis M. Pope said, "A number of people were surprised by [Wisniewski's] tactics. His campaign was a little bit intimidating."

Although Wisniewski has never run for office, Montgomery County Republicans narrowly endorsed his candidacy for the appointment last week -- one night before the Howard committee met and unanimously picked Bates, 56.

The legislative district for the seat in question is 90 percent in Howard County, and after redistricting will be entirely in Howard, so Howard's Republicans expected to lead in picking the replacement for Del. Robert H. Kittleman, who resigned to replace former Sen. Christopher J. McCabe in the state Senate.

But Wisniewski attended the Howard meeting last week armed with his Montgomery victory and backed by supporters and a partner from his law firm, Tydings and Rosenberg. The partner, Thomas M. Wilson III, warned Howard Republicans that their plan to meet with Montgomery GOP leaders to decide on one name to forward to Glendening is "unconstitutional" -- a charge they rejected.

That tactic might have backfired for Wisniewski, however.

"To have a room of nine very active Republicans feel threatened doesn't bode well for your aspirations for the future," said Warren E. Miller, a member of the Howard County Republican State Central Committee.

"I at least found that offensive," Miller said.

Wisniewski said Wilson was "there to assist."

Bates also seemed taken aback by Wisniewski's campaign.

"We haven't seen [Wisniewski] active in local politics," she said.

"I've worked too long and hard to bring unity to the Republican Party in Howard County. I don't believe in being divisive."

Bates was a central committee member for a decade and worked for eight years as one of Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker's top aides. She has managed campaigns for other Republican candidates and sought a County Council seat in 1998. She now works as a legislative aide to Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy of Baltimore County.

Trent Kittleman, a veteran Republican Party worker who is married to Senator Kittleman, withdrew her candidacy at the last minute.

Wisniewski said his top priorities are supporting education, preventing further restrictions on gun ownership and supporting the "right to life." The Mount Hebron High School graduate also stressed his status as an Eagle Scout, which he called "the greatest leadership school in the world."

He worked as an intern for U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a conservative Western Maryland Republican. He became friends with another young Bartlett intern, Frederick state Sen. Alex X. Mooney, who, he said, helped him win over a majority of the Montgomery Republicans last week.

He indicated that he might run for the seat in November whether he wins the appointment or not.

"I am not about to surrender my rights to run for office just because someone else wants it, too," Wisniewski told the committee.

Pope stressed that the party wants unified support for someone who can keep the seat for a full four-year term.

"We want a candidate who can win in November and can represent the people of the [new] 9th District well," Pope said.

"I like both candidates. [Wisniewski] is very determined. To his credit, he ran a very strong full-court campaign and talked to most every single central committee member."

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