Raynor's had hand in voting for 5 decades

September 21, 2006|By Doug Donovan and Eric Siegel | Doug Donovan and Eric Siegel,Sun reporters

Gene M. Raynor's answering machine at his home in Baltimore's Little Italy neighborhood has long offered a simple greeting: "Not in. Leave message."

No frill, straight forward, to the point.

That's Raynor -Baltimore's elections director and a fixture on the city and state election scene who resigned yesterday in the aftermath of poll problems that arose in last week's primary.

For more than half a century, the 70-year-old Raynor has had a hand in elections in Baltimore and Maryland.

He rose from a position as an 18-year-old city elections clerk to administrator of the city's elections board in 1979. Eight years later, when his friend William Donald Schaefer went from Baltimore mayor to governor, he became administrator of the state board, a post he held for a decade.

Earlier this year, he came out of retirement to again head the city board.

"Anybody who ever ran for office in Maryland dealt with Gene Raynor," said veteran state Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat. "And he was always fair."

Yesterday, Raynor's explanation for his resignation was as succinct as the message on his answering machine.

"Frustration," he said.

"I've been through lots of tough elections before. Nothing as bad as this," he said.

One of the toughest was the governor's race in 1994, a process that narrowly gave the election to Democrat Parris N. Glendening over Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Afterward, allegations arose that Raynor employed a friend on the state payroll for what many called a no-show job - prompting Sauerbrey to call for his resignation.

Four years earlier, Raynor supervised the count of a close race for state Senate between Sen. John A. Pica Jr. and Martin O'Malley, a first-time candidate. Pica, a Raynor friend, won by 44 votes.

A short, stocky man whose penchant for casual dress makes him seem more like the head of a bowling league than an elections office, Raynor grew up as the third of five children of an Irish-American father and Italian-American mother.

He landed a job at the election board straight out of Patterson Park High School.

He was not shy about describing how he got the job. "Pure patronage," he said in a 1994 interview with The Sun. His patron was former Baltimore state Sen. Joe Bertorelli, for whom he had gone door-to-door as a campaign worker when he was 15.

A lifelong bachelor with no children, Raynor is a former owner of the popular Waterfront Hotel in Fells Point and has been a restaurant partner for the past three years in Dalesio's of Little Italy.

In an interview last year, Schaefer, who just lost his re-election bid as the state comptroller, called Raynor "as honest as the day is long."

But the state Democratic Party derided Raynor yesterday in a statement as "Ehrlich's hand-picked puppet to run the city elections."

"His inability to manage a smooth primary election brought him under fire and unable to defend his performance," the statement said.

Raynor has at times been similarly unsparing in his critique of others' Election Day performances.

In 1999, after the city's new Sequoia electronic voting system crashed and caused an overnight delay in tabulating the final November poll results, Raynor - then retired from his state elections post - was quick to blame city elections administrators.

"It's absolutely disgraceful," Raynor said, going so far as to call the city's elections chief, Barbara Jackson, "incompetent."

Yesterday, Jackson, who retired in 2004, declined to respond in kind. She said that she had never been fond of Raynor but that last week's problems were with the system, not the man.

"I don't blame what happened on Gene," she said. "Whoever they brought in, it would have been the same result. It's not anyone's fault except the people who insisted on putting that system in Baltimore City."

Raynor returned to the electoral fray in 2004, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named him to serve on the state board. He was part of an unsuccessful effort by the governor to remove state elections chief Linda H. Lamone from her post.

He returned to his position as city elections director in January with immediate tensions.

The Board of Elections' president, Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr., and the former acting director, Cornelius L. Jones, both wanted the job.

After last week's primary, Raynor went public with his continuing rift with Armstead Jones - and his perception of dissension and lack of communication with the staff. Raynor also said he was allowed to keep only $30,000 from his position because of state laws restricting how much money pensioners could receive from a state job.

On Tuesday, he appeared before the City Council. Like the message on his answering machine, his assessment of his performance was to the point.

"I would grade myself possibly a D for deficient," he said.



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