7 vie to replace Owens

Experienced candidates on both sides focus on development

Maryland Votes 2006

September 10, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

Ever since Janet S. Owens began her second term as Anne Arundel County executive in 2002, the race has been on to succeed the moderate Democrat in the fiscally conservative, Republican-leaning county.

Nearly four years later, two Democrats and five Republicans are vying for the post in what is perhaps the most competitive county executive race in Maryland.

When primary voters go to the polls Tuesday, they will choose from a field of experienced candidates with varying backgrounds who represent different parts of the sprawling county. The dominant theme in the races has been how to balance protection of its quality of life with a wave of growth that could reshape the look of Anne Arundel.

FOR THE RECORD - A candidate box in Sunday's Anne Arundel edition gave the wrong party affiliation for Sheriff George F. Johnson IV. He is a Democrat.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The winners of the Democratic and Republican primaries will face each other on Nov. 7. Term limits prohibit Owens from running a third time.

The Democratic primary pits three-term Sheriff George F. Johnson IV, who has a huge campaign fund and an affable smile and handshake, against Dennis Callahan, a former Annapolis mayor known for his managerial skills and scrappy, sometimes gruff persona.

Johnson, 52, is widely viewed as the favorite. He has built an extensive list of union and political endorsements, and has run cable TV ads for the past six weeks while bombarding Democrats with mailings and phone calls. He reported $334,000 on hand in a campaign finance report filed Sept. 1, having spent nearly $200,000 in a two-week period in August.

Callahan, 65, who had $27,000 on hand, countered that Johnson's spending implies weakness. "If you have a big lead, you save your money ... you don't spend three-quarters of it in the primaries," Callahan said.

Callahan is pursuing public office for the fourth time since he was beaten as the incumbent mayor in the 1989 Democratic primary in Annapolis. He served under Owens for 7 1/2 years as county recreation and parks director before stepping down in May to campaign.

Callahan, who joined the race in late February, has in recent weeks sought to weaken Johnson by criticizing the sheriff's handling of his department, pointing to a backlog of more than 11,000 warrants. The former mayor also noted that a clerk in the sheriff's office was fired in 2004 after being indicted on charges of stealing more than $12,000.

As a former business owner, Callahan has portrayed himself as the only candidate with true executive experience in the public and private sector, and he said he is best equipped to make tough decisions to keep the county on a strong fiscal footing while adhering to the revenue-tax limit.

Johnson has played the front-runner, avoiding clashes with Callahan and attending many civic events. He emphasizes in commercials and in person his efforts to reform the sheriff's office, which returns about $1 million a year to the county's coffers.

The sheriff said he is keeping one eye on his get-out-the-voter effort this weekend and keeping another eye on the general election. The county has been leaning Republican even though it has more Democrats than Republicans.

On the Republican side, three current or former state delegates are running in a campaign that has also drawn a high-ranking county schools official and a former county recreation and parks director.

Del. John R. Leopold, a five-term state delegate from Pasadena, has pushed bills to help families pay to treat their radium-tainted wells and to regulate roadside panhandling. Before moving to Anne Arundel, he was a Hawaii state lawmaker and was the GOP's candidate for governor there.

Leopold, 63, known for burning shoe leather to reach out to constituents, had designs on the county executive's race once before, in 1990, but backed out at the last moment.

"I've tried to follow the same campaign strategy that I have used for 30 years, which is face-to-face personal contact," Leopold said. "There is no substitution for personal contact."

Del. David G. Boschert, a 59-year-old Crownsville resident, is a Vietnam veteran and businessman who has held elected office in Anne Arundel County for 18 years. The one-time Democrat has served on the County Council and in the state legislature.

He joined the race late, positioning himself as the alternative to Leopold and former state Del. Phillip D. Bissett, a sharp-tongued and sometimes controversial former Ehrlich administration aide.

Bissett, who lost his delegate seat in 1998, nearly overtook Owens in 2002 despite raising significantly less money than she did. He then held three administration posts but quit a state job as head of the MARC train service last year to avoid a legal conflict while running for county executive. Since then, according to a campaign spokeswoman, Bissett, who will turn 50 Monday, has focused solely on the campaign.

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