Delegate takes office -- for 15 days

December 27, 2006|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

Standing in the splendor of the historic Maryland State House, William "Jay" Breitenbach put his hand on a Bible yesterday and swore to use the best of his "skill and judgment" to represent his new constituents in northeastern Anne Arundel County.

A real estate appraiser and former county public works employee who lives in Severna Park, Breitenbach, 59, looked earnestly at House Speaker Michael E. Busch. With his wife and 11-year-old son looking on, he seemed to really mean it.

Only one thing stood in his way: He will serve as a member of the House of Delegates for just 15 days, counting weekends.

"I'm honored to step in, and I've been looking forward to this," Breitenbach said before he was sworn in, admitting that he had never really considered going into politics until a few weeks ago.

He won't have an office, or a coveted license plate, or a committee assignment. But Breitenbach - who after taking the oath was quickly ushered to a side room to fill out some human resources paperwork - will earn $1,812.50 for the two-week period.

Breitenbach is filling a vacancy created by former Republican Del. John R. Leopold's successful run for Anne Arundel County executive.

Leopold's assumption of his new office Dec. 4 left District 31 with two sitting delegates, one short of its full allotment. The problem could have righted itself in short order. All 141 members of the House of Delegates were up for election in November, and three Republican politicians -incumbent Don Dwyer Jr. and two newcomers - are ready to take office on Jan. 10.

While some local political leaders were willing to wait until January, Leopold wasn't.

"The main reason the appointment has been made is to ensure that the citizens of District 31 have a full complement of representation for as long as possible," said Leopold, who specifically requested that Breitenbach take his place.

Breitenbach said yesterday that he and Leopold were "friends and associates," and state records show he contributed $200 to Leopold's campaign in September. Leopold said yesterday that Breitenbach deserved the short-lived appointment because of his government experience and community involvement.

General Assembly vacancies are filled by the governor, who selects a nominee approved by the local central committee of the political party that holds the office. Michael Collins, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee, said the committee had considered leaving the position vacant.

But after Leopold made his wishes known, the central committee agreed to send Breitenbach's name to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The party could have filled the slot with Steve Schuh or Nicholaus R. Kipke, two Republican delegates-elect who won their seats in a highly competitive race, but decided against that option.

"It would have given one of the two new delegates seniority over the other, and that would just set up a cat fight that no one really needs right now," Collins said.

Although Breitenbach's term will place him among the shortest-serving members in General Assembly history, a days-long stint in the Assembly is not without precedent.

Leopold, who had researched the matter, was aware of two instances in Anne Arundel where an Assembly member was elected county executive and someone was appointed in his place, even for a period of less than a month. In 1982, Gov. Harry Hughes appointed David D. Boschert to fill the seat vacated by O. James Lighthizer; and in 1994, Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed Bob Baldwin to fill in for John G. Gary.

From 1995 to 1999, Breitenbach served on the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals, which deals primarily with land use and zoning cases. He also worked from 1990 to 1994 in the land acquisition division of the county's Public Works Department, and from 2002 to 2005 in the real estate office of the county's Central Services Department.

At Breitenbach's sparsely attended ceremony, Busch expounded on the history of the State House and welcomed his new inductee.

"I'm very proud of this chamber, and everyone who's sworn in here becomes a part of the history of this chamber," said the Democratic speaker. "Governors and senators have come out of this House of Delegates."

While he knows he can't promise the world to constituents, Breitenbach was willing to lend a hand, if someone needs it. Any calls or requests to Leopold's office will be forwarded to him, he said.

"It won't be a long time," he said. "But if there's a constituent need out there, I will be available."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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