The already politically awkward process of picking a new state's attorney for Howard County took a twist when the interim state's attorney applied to be considered for the permanent job, meaning he will square off against a lawyer on his staff who has high-level backing.
The shrouded nature of the midterm appointment and the maneuvering of candidates have imparted an air of intrigue to the process in a county that prides itself on transparent government, clean politics and high-minded public service. The state's attorney's office in particular has been viewed as operating above politics, despite the fact that the head job is an elected position.
"I've always emphasized the nonpolitical nature of the job," said interim State's Attorney Dario Broccolino, 63, who filed as a candidate Friday, the deadline to do so.
The other candidate who works in the office is senior Assistant State's Attorney Lara C. Weathersbee. She, too, said her focus is fixed on her professional duties.
"This isn't some sort of personal contest for me," said Weathersbee, 45, who heads the juvenile division. "I'm just focused on what I believe and what is in the best interest of the people in this office and the residents of the community."
The other known candidate is former Del. Neil F. Quinter. The county's Circuit Court judges will vote to determine who gets the job.
The job became available in December when State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone, a Democrat, was appointed to be a Circuit Court judge about a year after being elected to a second term. Broccolino, a deputy state's attorney since 1999 who also is a Democrat, was named interim state's attorney.
McCrone told his staffers in a private meeting that he supportedWeathersbee as his permanent replacement and hoped they would, too. After his remarks turned up in local news accounts, McCrone recused himself from voting.
County Executive Ken Ulman also came out in support of Weathersbee and said he has advocated for her with two of the judges. He declined comment last week but recently praised her "tremendous record."
Weathersbee, a prosecutor for 13 years, is the daughter of Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.
"I think I have the strongest base of support from my co-workers, members of the bar and the community," she said. "I think that speaks to my credentials."
The judges extended the deadline to apply by a month, saying they wanted to make sure candidates understood that their names would be publicly revealed. Despite the arrival of the deadline Friday, Judge Lenore R. Gelfman, who is in charge of the selection process, said she won't reveal the names of any other applicants until this week.
Broccolino declined to say why he waited until the final day to apply.
"My style is not to call attention to myself," he said. "I'm here doing the job well. Let that speak for itself."
Broccolino also said he is undecided as to whether he would run for a full four-year term in 2010 if he wins the appointment.
"I think my combination of experiences make me uniquely qualified," he said. "I think I'm the front-runner, but it's not what I think that counts."
Before joining the county office, Broccolino was a state employee, serving for a decade as Maryland's state's attorney coordinator, organizing seminars and education programs for prosecutors.
Earlier, he was an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore for 11 years. In 1994, he ran for Howard state's attorney but lost to Republican Marna L. McClendon, who hired him as her deputy four years later.
Quinter, a Harvard law school graduate and former Maryland assistant attorney general who was active on criminal law issues during his four years in the General Assembly, has recommendations from former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., for whom he worked for five years, and Prince George's County state's attorney Glenn F. Ivey.
"I think my experience and the variety of things I've done in my career qualify me to be state's attorney," Quinter said.
Judge Diane O. Leasure also recused herself because she's seeking a seat on the state Court of Special Appeals. That leaves the decision to the county's three other circuit judges. No date has been set for the vote.