Sheriff enters race

Johnson declares candidacy for county executive

first of three Democrats expected to declare bids


Pointing to his 34 years of experience in law enforcement, Anne Arundel County Sheriff George F. Johnson IV announced yesterday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for county executive in 2006 in a barnstorming tour that took him from Shady Side to Glen Burnie.

Rumors had been flying for well more than a year that the third-term sheriff would seek to replace Janet S. Owens, a fellow Democrat who cannot run for a third term because of term limits.

Johnson, 52, made his announcement speech at four sites, starting in Shady Side and moving to Annapolis and Maryland City before finishing in Glen Burnie. Followed by some 20 supporters along the way, he said the caravan reflected his effort to gain the support of residents in every corner of the county.

"I wanted people from all parts of this county to know that I care about them," Johnson said by phone in between stops in Annapolis and Maryland City.

Johnson inherited a $700,000 budget shortfall when he became sheriff in 1994, but the Pasadena resident has come in on budget or returned money to the county every year since, while expanding the role of the office's nearly 100 officers and staff. Johnson oversees an annual budget of more than $6 million.

"Your tireless efforts and dedication have helped us turn around the sheriff's office," Johnson said in his speech, "and helped solve the problems our families face. ... Because of your support, we have made life better for thousands of Anne Arundel County residents. And that's why I want to take the next step."

Johnson focused on campaign priorities of reducing the size of overcrowded classrooms within county schools, protecting the county from overdevelopment and cleaning up the environment.

He said his reputation as a "consensus-builder" would help to see those initiatives through.

Given that thousands of jobs are expected to pour into western Anne Arundel County in the next decade because of the national military realignment and a renewed emphasis on intelligence operations at the National Security Agency, Johnson said that generating more work force housing would be another priority, especially for teachers and police and fire personnel.

"It's something that we need to do," he said in the interview. "It has to be an ongoing effort."

The sheriff unofficially kicked off his campaign at an event Sunday in Pasadena that was attended by an estimated 1,000 people, according to his campaign staff. Attendees included Owens, Baltimore Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley, and Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, Steny H. Hoyer and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. Cardin is also a candidate for U.S. senate.

Owens' impending departure has created a wide-open race in a Republican-leaning county that has strongly supported Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and President Bush and fiscally conservative policies. Johnson's main bloc of support will likely be in the northern areas of the county.

Johnson is the first of three likely Democratic candidates to declare for executive. The two others are Dennis M. Callahan, director of the county's Department of Recreation and Parks and a former mayor of Annapolis, and Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a county councilwoman who represents the Annapolis area.

Republican candidates are expected to include Phillip D. Bissett, a former state delegate who lost to Owens in 2002 by less than 2 percentage points; Del. John R. Leopold, a moderate who represents areas of northern Anne Arundel County; Tom Angelis, a Baltimore schoolteacher who lost to Bissett in the 2002 primary; and Gregory V. Nourse, an assistant superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Angelis and Nourse have declared their candidacies.

Some political observers said the nature of the race for county executive, which could weigh heavily on what is expected to be a hotly contested gubernatorial election between Ehrlich and either O'Malley or Montgomery County Executive Douglas M.Duncan, could force candidates to raise upward of $1

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