Battle heats up in GOP race for county's chief

Would-be executives make personal attacks

Angelis, Bissett face off Sept. 10

Winner duels Democratic incumbent Owens in Nov.

Anne Arundel

September 01, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Republicans Tom Angelis and Phillip D. Bissett believe that, if given the chance, they could defeat Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens in the general election. But first, one of them has to survive the Sept. 10 GOP primary, which is fast dissolving into a bruising battle of spiteful personal attacks.

To be sure, the Republican candidates spent most of the summer promoting their ideas for government reform. Both have also attacked Owens, a first-term Democrat who is unopposed in the primary, for failing to improve schools and strike a balance between development and land preservation.

What started out as a ho-hum warm-up to November's main event - with an emphasis onchildren, police officers and personal prosperity - has turned testy.

"I think the way [Bissett] has acted is reprehensible," said Angelis, 55, of Davidsonville. "It is an arrogant attitude, and as far as I am concerned, the gloves are off."

Recently, Angelis, a Baltimore teacher and former police officer, accused Bissett of trying to "bribe" him to quit the race by offering him a post in state or county government. Bissett denies the charge and has portrayed Angelis as a desperate candidate who senses Election Day doom.

"Desperate people do desperate things," said Bissett, 45, a Mayo resident and former state legislator. "At least I have a record."

Angelis said that he is mailing 10,000 postcards with a reprint of a statement Bissett made recently in which he disparaged teachers. Angelis also hopes that voters will remember a remark Bissett made in 1998 while serving in the General Assembly. At the time, Bissett attacked then-Councilwoman Diane R. Evans for criticizing Republican County Executive John G. Gary, whom Owens defeated in 1998.

Bissett, a Gary supporter, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying, "It's easier to bitch than to lead." Many, including Evans, who lost to Owens in the 1998 Democratic primary for county executive, took the statement to be sexist.

"You can't use slash-and-burn tactics with people ... and run this county effectively," Evans said Friday. "And that is not what Anne Arundel County is looking for in a leader."

Bissett, a sixth-generation Edgewater resident who won appointment to the House of Delegates in 1991 after the death of Del. Aris Allen and served until he lost to Democratic Del. C. Richard D'Amato in 1998, said recently that he regretted the remark but didn't apologize for his style.

"I think people are tired of some of this political correctness," said Bissett, who served as chairman of the county delegation for four years. "I was performing a function as the head of the delegation, which was to advance the agenda of the county executive."

Whoever wins the primary will face a tough battle against Owens, who has amassed a large campaign treasury - about $240,000 at last count, compared with $5,300 for Bissett and zero for Angelis - and an impressively long list of supporters. A GOP steering committee, Republicans for Owens, was also announced last week.

"We don't take any vote for granted," said Bob DiPietro, Owens' campaign spokesman.

Owens doesn't seem too concerned about the Republican primary race. At a forum held by the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last week in Annapolis, Owens zipped through her speech and left the building before Angelis reached the podium.

"She has pretty much inoculated herself in education," said Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. Nataf was referring to an aggressive school construction and repair program and a 15 percent increase in teaching salaries over the past four years, both of which Owens initiated.

Meanwhile, Angelis and Bissett are confident that they will win the primary. Angelis has said he would improve public safety by requiring all police officers to perform foot patrols at least once a day. He has also talked about installing a mechanism in emergency vehicles that would allow emergency personnel to change traffic signals.

On the education front, Angelis has criticized Owens for giving the Board of Education too much leeway in classroom spending. The school system came up about $5 million short at the end of the budget cycle that ended June 30. To keep better tabs on spending, Angelis said, he would improve communications between elected officials and the school board.

Angelis, an unconventional candidate who staged a 24-hour sign-waving vigil at Route 2 and West Street recently, has said he would also work a different county job for four hours once every two weeks. Angelis, who served as the county's director of recreation and parks for about 19 months under Gary, said he would require department heads to work rotating weekends.

"I have proven myself in the primary to be a worthy opponent to Ms. Owens," Angelis said. "I am an attractive candidate. I have a good work ethic. I have good moral character."

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