Ballot count lifts Leopold

Absentee votes tip Anne Arundel race for executive

November 11, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

In what would be a rare victory at the polls for Maryland Republicans, state Del. John R. Leopold appears to have won a hotly contested race for Anne Arundel County executive, after a tally yesterday of absentee ballots gave him a nearly 4,000-vote lead over his Democratic opponent.

A moderate Republican who has deftly maneuvered to victories in a strongly Democratic area of the county for the past 25 years, Leopold declared himself the victor over county Sheriff George F. Johnson IV after the count of more than 15,000 absentee ballots raised his lead from 334 to 3,989 votes.

Leopold, 63, a five-term delegate, pledged in a telephone interview to live up to his campaign pledge of fiscal responsibility. He promised to govern in a bipartisan fashion, and to push ahead with initiatives on affordable housing and to restore waterways that have been ravaged by stormwater runoff.

The Pasadena resident said he would work with his administration to set specific goals by which voters could judge him.

"I appreciate the support that the citizens of Anne Arundel County have given me," Leopold said. "I hope to be a responsible steward of their financial and natural resources."

Johnson's campaign scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference today in Glen Burnie, where the three-term sheriff is expected to concede the race. Johnson could not be reached for comment last night. A campaign representative said he was making his way back from his vacation home in Ocean City, and that the sheriff had left a message on Leopold's cell phone.

Mike Phennicie, Johnson's campaign manager, said the sherriff's campaign didn't expect "any big changes" in the result from tallies of overseas absentee ballots and the provisional ballots that will be counted next week.

Leopold's apparent victory makes him one of the state's most prominent elected Republicans, along with David R. Craig, who narrowly won election as Harford County executive.

Leopold prevailed with tepid support at best from Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and others in the GOP, who have privately referred to him as a loner. While Leopold had fractured party support, Democrats across the county rallied behind the affable Johnson, who raised a record $1.3 million for the executive's race and had hundreds of supporters campaigning for him.

But Leopold - whose campaign treasury was less than half of Johnson's and who served as his own campaign manager and spokesman - struck a chord with voters in the fiscally conservative county by pledging to cut waste in county government and hire people based on "competence, not cronyism." He said that party affiliation would be a "secondary consideration" in hiring his team.

Leopold announced two men - a Republican and a Democrat - to lead his transition team. He said several major appointments to his administration would be coming next week and that he planned to speak soon with Janet S. Owens, the two-term Democrat he will replace next month.

"I intend to make sure this is inclusive administration," Leopold said. "It will reflect the racial and geographic diversity of the county. My administration will look like Anne Arundel County."

Although Leopold held a 334-vote lead after Tuesday's vote, both he and Johnson held off on declarations until election officials counted the more than 15,000 absentee votes, a record number.

That process began Thursday and was completed late yesterday afternoon - two days earlier than expected.

All that remains to be counted are about 3,600 paper provisional ballots and several hundred absentee ballots from overseas voters that will be counted next week. Leopold expressed confidence that his leading margin - 92,088 to 88,099 - could not be overcome.

"Clearly, it's an insurmountable lead," Leopold said. "I would say the campaign has flown through a good deal of turbulence, but the plane has landed safely."

The absentee votes changed the fortunes of two Republicans in state races in the county.

In the Senate race in District 31 in northeastern Anne Arundel, which includes Pasadena and part of Glen Burnie, Republican Bryan Simonaire was leading by 608 votes over Democrat Walter Shandrowsky. Simonaire had trailed by 198 votes after Tuesday's vote. That seat is being vacated by longtime Democratic Sen. Philip C. Jimeno.

In the House contest in District 30, which includes Annapolis and parts of the Broadneck peninsula, the wave of absentees lifted Republican Ron George to a 28-vote lead over Democrat Barbara D. Samorajczyk for the third of three delegate seats. George had trailed the two-term county councilwoman by 559 votes after Tuesday.

In the House race in District 31, the winning margin for third-place finisher Joan Cadden, a Democratic incumbent, over Donald H. Dwyer Jr., a Republican incumbent, was reduced by the absentee ballots to 30 votes.

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