Smith, Riley take different approaches to final stretch

But both are still making rounds in Balto. County

October 29, 2002|By Andrew A. Green and Jonathan D. Rockoff | Andrew A. Green and Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

They've been at this for months -- out on the campaign trail, shaking hundreds of hands and chatting with hundreds of voters. In living rooms. At rallies. In restaurants.

Now, time is running out for Democrat James T. Smith Jr. and Republican Douglas B. Riley, the two candidates for Baltimore County executive.

On Thursday, with the election less than two weeks away, the candidates ranged across the county making pleas to voters for support.

And they also signed off on the final tactics of their campaigns.

Which is what Smith was doing behind his desk at campaign headquarters that cold, gray morning.

The Democrat's office is in the same Reisterstown house where he conducted his first run for public office in 1978.

Elected to the County Council, and later a Circuit Court judge, Smith has given his stump speech 150 times this campaign. But he figures he gave that speech for the last time two days before.

He is spending more time in the office, dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a 13-month campaign run according to plan.

Michael P. Smith, the candidate's son and campaign manager, popped in and out every few minutes to check the copy on a mailer going out to residents living in the southwestern part of the county.

Father and son also reviewed the final versions of a new television ad scheduled to air this weekend.

The candidate checked thank-you letters to supporters, making sure the volunteers who type his dictation hadn't made any mistakes and adding his signature to those that passed muster.

"That one's got to be redone," Smith said, chucking a letter to the side. "I think it makes a difference if you do it right."

Also that morning, Riley stood before a group of lawyers, paralegals and secretaries on the 16th floor of a downtown Baltimore building.

Speaking in a conference room at the law firm of Venable LLP, Riley drew from a standard stump speech that emphasized his commitment to community input and Smith's time away from elective government.

"Helen Bentley -- when was she elected? One hundred years ago? Well, Jim Smith was last elected when Jimmy Carter was president," Riley said to laughter from the crowd.

"Or Millard Fillmore."

Riley lacks the campaign funds of his rival, so his campaign depends on the goodwill generated by his part-comic, part-serious personal appearances.

Although Riley just began a two-week campaign of area radio and local cable television ads, he cannot afford the monthlong media blitz of Smith, who has been advertising on Baltimore's network television affiliates.

During 23 months of campaigning, Riley has made 600 appearances, his campaign manager figures.

At the firm, Riley sought to distinguish his leadership style from County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, accusing him of ruling with an iron fist.

"I will include everyone in the process," said Riley, a lawyer who served on the County Council from 1990 to 1998.

By lunch time, Smith was out of his office and back on the trail.

Trip to the market

After a stop at the Baltimore County Substance Abuse Recognition luncheon, Smith headed back to familiar ground, the Towson Farmers' Market, where he was a frequent shopper during his 16 years on the Circuit Court bench.

Smith was running late, and his most loyal volunteer, Robert S. Knatz Jr., the unofficial mayor of Reisterstown, had been working the crowd for half an hour.

A man buying apples buttonholed Smith and asked about his views on Smart Growth, Gov. Parris N. Glendening's effort to control growth.

"When I was on the council, I was leading the way on that before `smart growth' was even a term," Smith said.

Not everyone was such a tough customer.

"Hi, I'm Jim Smith, Democrat for county executive," he said to a woman by the flower stand.

"As long as you're a Democrat," Pamela Renner of Towson replied. "Otherwise, I won't talk to you."

"Here," Knatz chimed in, handing over a fistful of brochures. "Take two. Give `em to your family and friends."

Soon Riley, too, would have a chance to hand out fliers.

After his talk at the law firm, he hopped in a station wagon and drove to Dundalk.

On the way to a swim center there, Riley compared the number of Smith campaign signs on lawns with the number of his own.

Dundalk is heavily Democratic, but residents are fiercely independent, and Riley believes he can pick up a large number of their votes. One of his major campaign pledges is to revitalize such older neighborhoods, which he says have been neglected.

Hence his 11 a.m. tour of the Dundalk Fitness and Aquatic Center, a former YMCA that sits along the community's largely empty retail strip.

"I like to come into a YMCA, an athletic center, and eat doughnuts," Riley said, picking one up before the center's owners told him that the county is threatening to terminate their lease.

"Assuming I win, let's get together right after the election and get working," Riley told owner Bill Walker. "I can see the value here."

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