Transportation officer weighs Harford run

Police chief McLhinney may enter sheriff's race

incumbent Golding announces he will not seek another term

May 05, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Gary W. McLhinney, the longtime president of the Baltimore police union and a staunch supporter of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said yesterday he is considering running for sheriff of Harford County after the abrupt decision of R. Thomas Golding not to seek another term.

"It's an opportunity I need to look at," said McLhinney, 46. "This is not a decision that just affects me, but family, co-workers and friends. I love this agency [the Transportation Authority] and the men and women who work here, and we've got some unfinished business."

After Golding informed members of his command staff of his decision yesterday morning, he issued a statement slamming recent reports of simmering discontent in the agency. The sheriff sharply criticized what he called "underhanded tactics" used by his detractors to discredit him.

"During the past several weeks, it has become increasingly obvious that the tenor of the campaign process will become `nasty' to say the least," Golding, 54, said in the statement. "... I have no desire to see this office ripped apart by petty politics and a desire to achieve an end regardless of the means."

The decision was closely guarded, even kept from some members of his campaign committee until yesterday's meeting. But behind the scenes, Golding was working to secure another candidate. McLhinney, a Bel Air resident, confirmed that he spoke with Golding on Wednesday about the possibility of running.

Golding's announcement comes on the heels of a complaint this week that his staff has been intimidating employees into supporting his campaign. The anonymous letter, a copy of which was sent to The Sun, also went to the county election board and was forwarded to the state prosecutor's office for review, according to election officials.

Last month, a member of the command staff, Maj. L. Jesse Bane, stepped down from the department after 34 years to run as a Democrat for sheriff. Two other candidates have announced their intention to run.

McLhinney was appointed to his current post by the governor after the city police union endorsed Ehrlich in 2002 - the first time the union had supported a Republican in three decades. He would be leaving the state position as Ehrlich seeks re-election.

McLhinney was credited with making the Baltimore union a political force and helping to win a major salary increase for officers.

In recent years, he had expressed interest in a run for elective office, and running for sheriff in Harford County could unite that desire with the opportunity to remain in law enforcement. In Harford County, the Sheriff's Office is the primary police agency, and the position of sheriff is equivalent to police chief. A number of sources close to the situation said he is likely to pursue the position.

Golding was appointed in 2003 by Ehrlich after Sheriff Joseph P. Meadows resigned amid an investigation into complaints of criminal misconduct made against him by a female officer.

A 33-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, Golding has been described as a reluctant candidate who worked to improve the agency and its image but who was uncomfortable with campaigning. He has never run for public office.

"Tom has done a very good job in a difficult situation for the agency," said County Executive David R. Craig. "He's always thinking in the long term of the agency, and that's what he's doing now" with this decision.

Because he retired to become sheriff, Golding will leave the agency after the election, according to spokesman Robert B. Thomas.

A campaign fundraiser scheduled Tuesday at the Maryland Golf & Country Club has been canceled, and Golding will refund money already raised, Thomas said. According to campaign finances figures, Golding had $38,000 as of the most recent reporting date in January.

As speculation began to swirl Wednesday night that Golding would step down, some close to him professed having no knowledge of an impending decision.

"He wants to run the office, and he's into the rhythm of this agency and wants to see it continue," said campaign spokesman Edward Hopkins.

But Golding is said to be irked by recent accusations of misconduct and morale problems, and was shaken by Bane's decision to join the race. The other two candidates - Republican Dave Tritt and Democrat Terry W. Serago - have no law enforcement experience.

"It's sad that you can chase a good person out of a race by slinging mud," said Joseph I. Cassilly, county state's attorney.

In his statement yesterday, Golding said he did not want to see the image of the agency tarnished in a bitter campaign.

"The obvious rancor and certain low level, underhanded tactics will only increase and further damage the image of the office. This I cannot allow, nor will I be a party to it," he said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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