After 28 years in Annapolis, Philip C. Jimeno leaves office proud of accomplishments

Trading in a public life

January 03, 2007|By CHRIS YAKAITIS | CHRIS YAKAITIS,Special to The Sun

When Philip C. Jimeno began his career in Maryland politics almost 30 years ago, he aimed to spread his name throughout the community. He didn't know he'd end up spreading it literally.

That's what happened when he and his campaign manager pulled away from Jimeno's house on Matthews Avenue in Brooklyn Park in the spring of 1978, leaving stacks of campaign literature on the roof of the car.

"We were running up the street and all of it blew on Church Street, all over the place," Jimeno said Friday, his last day in the James Senate Office Building. "That's how it begins."

Packing up his office -- a sunny, highly coveted corner suite that looks out on Church Circle and the hovernor's mansion -- District 31's retiring Democratic state senator reflected on his 28-year career in public office and completed his last few pieces of official paperwork.

His nameplate, already removed from the wall directory to make room for Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. of Glen Burnie, sat on top of a final stack of financial disclosure forms awaiting his signature.

"See what they put me to after all these years?" he said jokingly. "When you're out, you're out."

Jimeno said his decision to bow out of politics after 22 years in the Senate and six years in the House of Delegates came as a surprise to some fellow legislators in Annapolis. But for the 59-year-old insurance agent and father of two, the 2006 election cycle presented an opportunity for him to exit public life on his own terms.

"I have a grandchild, another one on the way, and I'm doing two full-time jobs for 28 years," he said. "I'm getting older and wanted to turn my attention to my family, to my health and to my business, and this was the ideal opportunity to do it."

Jimeno points to many accomplishments during his time in office: the renovation of North County High School and Lindale and Brooklyn Park middle schools, rehabilitation projects on Ritchie Highway, Mountain Road and Belle Grove Road, and the coming redevelopment of Southview Shopping Center in Brooklyn Park.

But he said he always placed a higher priority on constituent service than public policy. He also takes greater pride in having his phone line open for citizen calls about potholes, Social Security checks and housing problems.

"Those are people that I'm hearing from now. They're writing me little notes," he said. "I'm really proud that I had a close relationship with the constituents I represent. I try to be accessible and responsive. I don't know how you can do the job without that."

A West Virginia native and graduate of Fairmont State College, Jimeno moved to Brooklyn Park with his wife, Ramona, in 1969.

He joined many community associations, coached Little League for his son, Gregory, and daughter, Monica, and later became president of the Greater Brooklyn Park Council.

His community involvement gave him the itch to run for elected office.

"[Ramona] let me run to let me get it out of my system, but we won. `What do we do now?'" he recalled thinking at the time.

Ramona Jimeno said they never anticipated nearly three decades in state government. "You just take one year at a time and see where it goes. It always seemed right to keep going," she said.

Rick Menikheim, the campaign manager who helped round up the forgotten fliers in 1978, said that after Jimeno established himself in the area, his integrity, character and good humor connected with his constituents and helped build his long career in state government.

"He's a phenomenal person in terms of what you see is what you get," he said. "You just could sense that he would be a good leader, hard worker, honest and never fail to return a person's phone call."

Jimeno's dedication to his district was noted by County Executive John Leopold. A longtime legislative colleague and one-time political rival, Leopold ran against Jimeno for the Senate seat in 1990 in a race both men cited as the hardest-fought contest of their careers.

Jimeno won that race, defeating Leopold, who lost for the first and only time in a county election. Nonetheless, Leopold invited Jimeno to his inaugural celebration in Brooklyn Park.

"I wanted him to be there and I publicly thanked him for his years of dedicated service to the people in his district," Leopold said. "He's been a very diligent and attentive representative."

The tight race to replace Jimeno in the 31st District, which stretches from Brooklyn Park south through toward Pasadena and Severna Park, was decided by absentee ballots a week after Election Day.

Voters ultimately elected Republican Bryan Simonaire to the state Senate, and three other GOP members to the House of Delegates.

But Jimeno chafes at the suggestion that the changing political environment of his home district is the reason behind his retirement.

Instead, he said, he wanted to focus on his work as a State Farm agent in Pasadena and take a much-delayed winter vacation with his wife.

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