Arundel delegate files

Republican Leopold joins race for county executive

July 01, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Del. John R. Leopold, a moderate Republican who has represented the Pasadena area for two decades, filed to run for Anne Arundel County executive yesterday, declaring that his legislative accomplishments make him the most qualified to oversee the county at its "most critical juncture in history."

Formally announcing his candidacy in Severn, Leopold said he possessed a combination of integrity, fiscal prudence and "bridge building" - all skills that he said the next executive will need as the county prepares for a high-tech job boom at Fort Meade.

"I am willing to build coalitions to solve problems," Leopold, 63, told a handful of supporters.

Leopold is viewed as a leading contender among the five Republicans and two Democrats who are vying to replace Janet S. Owens, a two-term Democrat who cannot seek re-election because of term limits. Owens is running for state comptroller.

Political observers note Leopold's ability to win five terms as a Republican delegate in District 31, a northern Anne Arundel County enclave that is dominated by Democrats.

Other Republican candidates include former state delegate and Ehrlich administration official Phillip D. Bissett, who lost to Owens in 2002; state Del. David G. Boschert of Crownsville; Gregory V. Nourse, an assistant superintendent for the county school system, and Tom Angelis, a schoolteacher who also ran in 2002.

Sheriff George F. Johnson IV and former county official and Annapolis Mayor Dennis Callahan are running on the Democratic side.

Leopold said he has knocked on the doors of 16,000 houses in the county within the past three years for his run for county executive. As of January, he had about $450,000 in cash on hand - more than six times the treasury of his closest opponent, Bissett. Leopold has lent himself nearly half that total.

Other Republicans have questioned whether he would be willing to spend his personal wealth in what is expected to be a hotly contested executive race.

Leopold said he is prepared to spend whatever it takes to win, and he has an extensive record to promote.

Leopold said his ability to push through initiatives in the House of Delegates, such as offering property tax relief for the elderly, replenishing the state transportation fund and providing math and science scholarships, speaks to the "visionary leadership" he would provide to the county.

A Philadelphia native, Leopold became politically active in the late 1960s, later serving in the Hawaii state House and Senate. He was the Republican nominee for Hawaii governor in 1978 but lost in the general election. He moved to Anne Arundel County in 1982 and that year became the first Republican to win a delegate seat in District 31. Over the years, Leopold has been appointed by presidents to four federal commissions. In 2000, he was named Legislator of the Year by the National Republican Legislators Association.

Leopold's announcement yesterday ended weeks of speculation that he might run for state Senate. He filed his candidacy three days before the state deadline.

"That's classic John Leopold," said Bissett. "Making this decision has been very difficult ... sticking with the decision has been equally difficult."

Leopold began to reconsider his options after longtime Democratic Sen. Philip C. Jimeno announced in April that he would not seek a sixth term. Republican Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. then jumped into the race and immediately emerged as a front-runner. Many Republicans have privately feared that Dwyer, a conservative firebrand, could prevail, and some urged Leopold to switch races.

Sixteen years earlier, Leopold did. His campaign for county executive was well under way in 1990 when Robert R. Neall entered the race. Leopold ran against Jimeno for state Senate instead and lost.

"I've been searching my soul very thoroughly because of my service in the legislature," Leopold said. But upon reflection, he said "the needs of the county are greater."

He added: "I pray the Almighty will look kindly on this decision."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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