Bissett enters race for executive

Former state delegate, lobbyist in GOP race, takes aim at Owens

`We can win this election'

April 14, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Phillip D. Bissett, a lobbyist and former state legislator, made it official yesterday, formally announcing his candidacy for Anne Arundel County executive as roughly 200 supporters cheered him on.

Looking beyond the September primary, where he faces competition for the GOP nomination, the 45-year-old Bissett is focusing on unseating Democratic County Executive Janet S. Owens in the November general election.

Bissett acknowledged yesterday that he would be an underdog in a bid against the incumbent, but conceded little else.

"We're going to be competitive," said Bissett, who announced he was entering the race at a block party at his home in Mayo. "Money alone doesn't win an election."

Before taking on Owens, he must face Tom Angelis, 55, a Davidsonville resident who headed the county Department of Recreation and Parks under former Executive John G. Gary, in the Republican primary. Angelis, a Baltimore high school English teacher, entered the race in February.

"We believe that with razor-sharp focus, we can win this election," Bissett said, standing amid pots of flowers on his front porch, surrounded by a crowd that included his sons Cameron, 12, Corey, 10, and Cody, 8.

As he spoke, a small plane flew overhead, trailing a banner that read, "Phil Bissett for A.A. Co. Executive." The fly-by was a surprise arranged by his wife, Robin Bissett, a substitute teacher in the county school system who stood with him yesterday.

Bissett briefly outlined his campaign platform, which emphasized education and included calls to balance economic development with environmental preservation, and to spend wisely to stretch law enforcement dollars.

"We could probably do better if we didn't have ... police officers driving the county executive around," Bissett said, taking a swipe at Owens' police bodyguards. Owens won a surprise victory over Gary in 1998 - the same year Bissett lost his House seat after two terms.

Bissett's supporters said they would vote for him this year because he has experience in local government and is accessible.

"Phil is a people's person," said Jody Thomas, 39, of Annapolis, who met Bissett when he was a member of the House of Delegates. "He's very approachable. He's down-to-earth. He knows Anne Arundel County and he's sharp, which doesn't hurt."

Bissett took office in 1991, when he was chosen by Anne Arundel GOP leaders to fill the seat left vacant by the suicide of Del. Aris Allen. The year before, Bissett had run for one of three House seats from the 30th District and lost. Allen was the sole Republican to win in the district that year.

"I owe [Allen] a debt of gratitude," Bissett said in a recent interview. "He was always even-tempered and he always listened."

During his years in the General Assembly, Bissett sat on the Judiciary Committee, where he supported stricter drunken-driving laws and harsher penalties for child abusers. Before he was defeated in 1998 by C. Richard D'Amato, an Annapolis Democrat, he was chairman of the county delegation for four years.

When he left office, Bissett became a lobbyist for Guardian Interlock Systems, a manufacturer of devices that prevent drunken drivers from starting their cars.

His office, off Church Circle in Annapolis, is within walking distance of the State House, which has made it easy for Bissett to stay in step with political friends and issues.

Bissett said his two terms in the General Assembly brought him a network of diverse political contacts and a keen eye for budgets.

In campaign literature, Bissett describes himself as a fiscal conservative who will control government spending.

Bruce C. Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist who has sparred with Owens recently over a land-use decision involving a Broadneck peninsula horse farm, said he is backing Bissett.

"Phil is straightforward and competent," Bereano said, "and he doesn't talk out of both sides of his mouth."

If he wins the primary against Angelis, Bissett said he expects the race against Owens to be a close one. "We think it will be a 51-49 election," he said.

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