One Week on the Campaign Trail
When election season starts, all politics is personal, as Bay Weekly found during a week on the campaign trail in Chesapeake Country.
by Sandra Olivetti Martin
The Republicans are jamming. This July Saturday, theyve decamped at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville in their GOP Jam. Now candidates are wooing voters and their kids with moonbounces in a giant inflated dragon, race cars, motorcycles, hot dogs, cotton candy and a wild-eyed elephant who pokes people with his trunk.
Theyve even brought along their favorite whipping boy Bill Clinton who on this day has become the flushing boy in a dunk tank.
|North Beach Democrats, including Calvert Commissioner Barbara Stinnett, at left holding sign, turned out to greet Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
When Republicans hit the target, a toilet flushes on the hapless volunteer wearing the Clinton mask.
The day is not quite as festive as the county fair, but it has attractions aplenty for a Saturday afternoon.
Welcome to Campaign 02, Act I with the chorus, Getting to Know You.
In an hour, we visited with upwards of a dozen political candidates, from would-be District 7 county councilmen Ed Reilly and Dave Wayson to the Republican candidate for governor, Rep. Bob Ehrlich and his running mate, state party chairman Michael Steele.
Each one of them focused on us such a momentary intensity of interest that we might have been the only star in his political universe.
Big Ed Reilly, from about as far west in Crofton as you can get and still be in Anne Arundel County, told us about his family hes a grandfather now, whose fourth and youngest just got the keys to the car and gave us his home phone number.
The man he has to beat, Dave Wayson who lives about as far south as you can go and still be in Anne Arundel County invited us to stop by anytime. Thats after he plumbed his character and motives for us.
I think I can get along with just about anybody, the State Farm insurance agent said. Unlike some of the others, I havent already decided who Im aligned with. Im ready to listen.
Its All Personal
|Anne Arundel Republicans put Bill Clinton in the dunking tank, left, at their Jam at the Fairgrounds.
Much of the time, the first law of politics can seem as remote as the first law of thermodynamics. Sit in on a session of the County Council in Anne Arundel or the Board of Commissioners in Calvert, and words swirl around you like the arcania of rocket science.
Who are these people, you wonder, and what are they talking about?
But this time of year, that law is as clear as Bay air after a noreaster has blown the humidity away: Politics is all personal.
Between now and September 10, its Primary Season, when everybody with a craving to run for office gets to take to the streets for retail politics. For some offices, primaries open the floodgates, seeming to bring out nearly as many hopefuls as voters. To be on the primary ballot, Democrats and Republicans need only sashay into their county election offices and declare: Im a candidate.
In Calvert County, for example, 16 candidates seven Democrats and nine Republicans are running for the County Board of Commissioners. On September 10, six will be eliminated, for the November ballot has room for only 10 five from each party. In November, five more will be eliminated. The final five, regardless of party, will call the shots in Calvert County for the next four years making decisions the effects of which will last far into the future.
Now, up and down Chesapeake Country, candidates are out courting. They want nothing more than to lay a hand lightly on your arm, look into your eyes and tell you theyre the man or woman for you.
Many voters understand that its worth their while, too, to meet these would-be leaders. Youll never have a better chance for personal, even intimate, conversation with people willing to do the work of governing. Whether you vote or not, these are the people to whom youre giving the power to shape your life, your community, your childrens futures.
Heres a bit of what we saw on the campaign trail last week, with a special focus on candidates running for county office in Chesapeake Country about the closest we get to local government.
Alone at the Kiwanis
Bill Rineharts courtship is not going well. At Commodore Mayo Kiwanis Hall on Carrs Wharf Road in Mayo, he is enduring a suffering you can understand only if you were a high school wallflower, abandoned to the sidelines as the popular kids danced. Hes throwing a fundraiser, and barely a handful of folks eight or 10 have arrived.
The ripping of checks from checkbooks does not drown out his words.
Its hard to get people stimulated, says the candidate for District 7 of the Anne Arundel County Council.
His is a likeable honesty, and you want to soften hard facts. He is, you think, a ways from home in Anne Arundels big Seventh District.
|Bill Rinehart is one of three Democrats running for Anne Arundel County Council in District 7.
Like the other six districts that comprise countywide government, Anne Arundels Seventh is made up of some 70,000 people. But to get that many people in modestly populated Southern Anne Arundel, the district stretches from Crofton in the north to Rose Haven in the south. From west to east, it stretches from the Patuxent River near Lothian-Harwoodm where Rinehart lives, to the Bay, near the Rhode River and the Mayo Kiwanis.
But its not only tonight, the candidate confesses. Candidates outnumbered the participants on candidate night at Londontowne, an Edgewater civic association, he said.
Wherever the other voters may be, youre here. So youre the person Rinehart woos with his story.
Except for a spell away at Western Maryland College, hes lived all his life in Anne Arundel County, building his own home at the back of his parents property. Hes put his whole working life 33 years into Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks, many of those years as director. Hes proud that 95 percent of the countys parks were acquired under his watch.
Now, hes retired with time on his hands and dedication to spare. Stunned by the attacks of September 11, Rinehart asked himself what he could do. In what he calls the Great American tradition of getting involved, he is running in the Democratic primary for County Council, with the early endorsement of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, Del. Mike Busch and Sheriff George Johnson.
Will this candidate be the man who gets your vote? You shouldnt know until youve sized up the competition. But at least Bill Rineharts got your ear, and, for the moment, thats all he asking.
Voters, he says, should at least care enough to find out how were different.
The scarcity of voters is not Bill Rineharts problem alone. Its a sad fact of American democracy. Average levels of voter turnout in primary elections are now more than 50 percent lower than they were in the late 1960s and early 1970s, according to a report released by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate this month.
In the 16 states that held their primary elections in the spring, only 16.2 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Actual figures ranged from a high of 31.7 percent in South Dakota to a low of 6.1 percent in New Jersey.
In other words, the outpouring of patriotism after September 11 has not translated to political participation.
Maryland voters go to the polls in fall rather than spring. Tuesday, September 10 the day before the anniversary of the attacks is the date we winnow our field of candidates from many to few.
In 1998, the last primary when we voted on county lawmakers, 28.6 percent voted statewide. In Chesapeake Country, we did better, surpassing South Dakotas spring primary high turnout of 31.7 percent. In Anne Arundel County, 33.24 percent of registered voters turned out for the primary. In Calvert County 31.99 percent voted.
The cloudy face of Americas democratic enthusiasm has a silver lining for county-level candidates. To win a primary election, they dont have to win the hearts of very many voters.
In Calvert Countys race for the Board of Commissioners, for example, it could take a Republican only about 1,500 primary votes to squeeze onto the November ballot. Thats based on the last Commissioners election, when 10,000 voters turned out.
Peter Perrys Populism
|Candidate Peter Perry, at right, with supporter Ann Wolfe and County Land Use Officer Bob Walker at the opening of the Deale Farmers Market.
In Anne Arundel County Councils District 7, advancing to the general election as the Democratic candidate will take 2,000 to 3,000 votes.
Three Democrats (as well as the two Republicans we met earlier, Dave Wayson and Ed Reilly) are competing in 7. Two of the Democrats Peter Perry and Rinehart are election neophytes. Theyre Harwood neighbors as well, competing against perennial candidate Patricia OBrien Boarman, formerly of Deale and now of Edgewater.
If all three candidates run strong, the winner could squeak by on as few as 2,001 of the some 6,000 Democratic votes likely to be cast in District 7s primary. If one candidate falters, the winning number might rise to, say, 2,701 votes.
But those votes have got to be won, one person at a time.
Former teacher Peter Perry long ago learned the Londontowne lesson.
Ive run many of those meetings where nobody came, says the astrophysicist turned grassroots campaigner.
Perry has served on boards from the Davidsonville Area Civic Association to the Sand & Gravel Resource Management Committee to the South County Small Area Planning Committee in his two decades in Harwood. There hes raised trees and a family. His two sons are teachers active in his campaign.
In that time, says one of his key supporters, Del. Virginia Clagett, who represented District 7 for 20 years before moving on to the House of Delegates in 1994, Peter has been so good in drawing together people of different opinions. Hes someone who can work with people and draw a consensus.
Rather than hope for the people to come to him, Perry brings his campaign to the people.
Picnics, parades, openings, community association meetings, door to door Ive been getting out to the people wherever I can find them, he says, gathering peaches while wooing voters at the opening of the Deale Farmers Market.
Here, as everywhere he goes, the courtship is the same. First, he must intrude on a strangers circle of solitude. Usually, hell find a sparkler, who knows everybody and who can break the ice with easy introductions.
After the obligatory touch, usually a handshake, comes the part that admittedly has been the hardest for Perry: sounding like a regular person instead of the rocket scientist and policy wonk that he is.
Im learning to relate better to people, he says. Im finding that wherever we live Londontowne or Harwood, Crofton or Deale weve got the same issues, the same problems, the same concerns. Sprawl, development and growth are at the top of the list.
Deales Thursday afternoon market doesnt draw many voters in its early minutes, but enough to build on the hundreds Perry has met since announcing his candidacy last September.
Just how many people has he met?
How many are the stars? he answers. So many that even an astrophysicist is awed.
We started planning back in May, 2001, corrects his wife, Helen, his closest adviser, campaign treasurer and caterer.
Its she as much as Perry who guarantees good attendance at a full schedule of fundraisers and coffees arranged by friends to lure more voters to the candidate. Supported by an array of volunteers, she creates multicultural feasts that range from caviar to crab to sushi.
Its all part of our grassroots campaign, says Helen Perry. Volunteers work with us to do it all, from cooking to stuffing envelopes to making our video to putting up yard signs. If youre throwing a coffee, for example, well send out an advance team to help you set up. Theyll stay to help clean up.
Adds the candidate, Working with volunteers is fiscally responsible, too.
Now, with only eight weeks to go, the Perrys are stepping up their campaign of good food and political courtship. Running by the numbers, theyll have to have wooed and won in the vicinity of 3,000 voters by then.
At the Elephant Club
|Running unopposed in the primary, Republican candidate Cathy Vitale can focus her attention on the general election for the District 5 seat on the Anne Arundel County Council.
Cathy Vitales numbers are higher. No other Republican wants the District 5 County Council seat she won by appointment when the man whod won the seat from the voters, Cliff Roop, died on the first Monday in January, 2000. So shes already running against Democratic George Maloney, wholl challenge her on the ballot in November.
Like District 7, more northerly District 5 the Broadneck Peninsula and Severna Park holds about 70,000 people, with some 35,000 of them registered to vote. A general election sets a much higher standard, so Vitale will need 11,123 votes to beat out her Democratic challenger in November.
An adroit politician, Vitale rushes to shake hands with newcomers and tosses out platitudes like candy. We shouldnt be electing rubber stamps to county council, she says, and sharpening the pencil, not raising the taxes is the way to fiscally responsible government.
Vitale is equally adept at self-promotion, which is a skill you need to win 11,000 votes plus change. At a mid-July meeting of the Elephant Club, the Whitehurst lawyer and councilwoman showed her dexterity.
The meeting was held beneath the watchful eyes of past presidents of the Anne Arundel Realtors Association, whose photos line the basement walls of the Associations Benfield Road headquarters in Severna Park. There, a dozen local Republicans listened raptly as Vitale sang her own praises.
Warm, expressive and animated, Vitales big personality compensates for her diminutive stature. She says she sometimes answers her own phone, which surprises some constituents, including one who called to complain that county roadwork had caused her basement to flood.
Ive been asking for help for eight years, the caller said, but nobody listens.
Vitale relates how she went to the callers house and watched the rainwater run down the street and into the yard. Then, Vitale called Public Works and insisted on a solution. A few days later, a storm drain had been installed.
I did that, she boasts.
Thats a typical story from Vitale, who describes herself as a responsive representative. She says her office fields 60 to 80 calls from constituents every month.
Id love to solve everyones problems, she says, but realistically, I cant.
What she can do, shell tell you, is listen.
Tom Angelis on the Stump
Schoolteacher Tom Angelis likes to do things the right way. He likes to dot his is and cross his ts. So he kicked off his primary campaign for Anne Arundel County Executive by opening an office.
Thats an expense many county-level politicians avoid. And hes opened his sooner than incumbent executive Janet Owens, as he longs to keep one step ahead of her all the way.
Which is one of the things he confided at the opening of his campaign headquarters in the lower level of the Conte-Lubrano Building on Defense Highway.
|Anne Arundel County Executive hopeful Tom Angelis is ready to take on Janet Owens in the general election but first he must defeat fellow Republican Phil Bissett in the primary.
Loyalty, Angelis said, is the first of the standards he expects of himself. Owens, on the other hand, bumped him out of the job hed held since 1997 when he was appointed by then-County Executive John Gary as Anne Arundel Countys director of Recreation and Parks.
Ms. Owens replaced me, Angelis says, despite lots of bipartisan support asking me not to be released.
So now Tom Angelis has got not only an office but also a campaign director, campaign manager and a staff chock full of volunteers, including his energetic mother, Clara Angelis, who played the part of staff photographer opening night in addition to her usual roles: stuffing envelopes and leafleting her senior citizens center.
He also has an appealing campaign logo, a red education apple with a white star superimposed like a bite, plus stickers some of them stuck on real apples and signs emblazoned with his logo. Hes got the stuff of a big-time campaign. All he needs now is supporters, beyond the four dozen or so who showed up to cheer on his opening night.
Angelis expects to win, he says, because of his pretty extensive diversity of experience. As well as director of Recreation and Parks, he was a D.C. police sergeant, a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate, and he spent 20 years in business before becoming a high school English teacher in Baltimore, where he is also working on a masters degree. Hes everything, he says, but photogenic.
I know Im the best candidate, says Tom Angelis.
But before he stacks himself up against Janet Owens, hell have to beat a challenger from his own party, former delegate Phil Bissett, of Edgewater, in a county-wide Republican primary, where Independents are also invited to vote. That could be a formidable task against a smooth-talking former delegate in the General Assembly who plans to release a series of carefully timed position papers this summer.
By the numbers 19,000 voted for John Gary in the last Republican primary, when he was untested the winner will need about 10,000 votes.
So Tom Angelis is backing his confidence with hard work. Ill go to every dog and pony show, he says. Ill be all over the county waving signs and walking in parades. If you dont stay close to the people, how can you expect to win?
Calverts Candidate Cavalcade
Chesapeake Beach was the last stop for Kathleen Kennedy Townsends big red bus. Turning out to meet the One Maryland Express at the end of a four-day political tour was just about every Democratic candidate and office holder in Calvert County.
(Maryland Senate President Mike Miller was absent, but he had a good excuse, being laid up after hip-replacement surgery.)
|Democratic candidates the Rev. Mervin Gray, left, and Wilson H. Parran each hope for a seat on Calvert Countys Board of Commissioners. First, they must compete among a total of seven Democrats in the primary. Only then would they get to compete against five Republican hopefuls in the general election.
In an obligatory ritual of political gatherings, their names were called, to applause, from the highest in the pecking order to the lowest.
Three of the candidates for County Board of Commissioners Grace Mary Brady, Mervin Gray and Wilson H. Parran turned their charm on. In the swirl of candidates, not many regular voters had squeezed onto the deck of the tiki bar at Rod n Reel, whose owner, Gerald Donovan, is also the town mayor and a Democratic loyalist.
On this side of election day, politicians love reporters even more than they do ordinary voters.
Brady, Gray and Wilson H. Parran share Calvert Countys primary ballot with four other Democrats, including incumbent Barbara Stinnett. That means theyll succeed in September only by knocking off two members of their own party. At this love fest, however, thoughts ran to winning, not losing.
Im not out to beat anybody, said Parran, who shares a last name, though no relationship, with sitting Republican Commissioner Doug Parran. My philosophy is to run on my own experience.
And thats considerable. Wilson combines an age-of-technology resume with old-fashioned community service. Information technology is his profession, but hes moonlighted on a long roll of community, civic and charitable organizations, from the Calvert County Board of Education to Adult Day Care Board of Directors.
Parran lives in the north of the county, in Owings, but that experience, he says, will help him run countywide. So will his small army of ambassadors recruited from all the organizations hes served. Hes out in his own behalf, too, showing up at meetings, knocking on doors and talking to anybody wholl listen.
Talking face to face, Parran is luminous with energy and purpose. Thats a good thing, because his is a demanding campaign, challenging voters to use their heads as well as to vote their hearts. He wants you to think about tax reserves and infrastructure and economic development. Like Peter Perry up in Anne Arundel County, Parran talks a 21st century jargon coined in universities and understandable only by degrees like Ph.D. and M.S. and B.A.
But when you get him to boil it down, his campaign message isnt hard to understand. That group of five people the Board of Commissioners has a lot of money to spend and the responsibility for spending it in ways that will move the county forward.
Like Wilson Parran, the Rev. Mervin Gray is an African American running for a seat on what has been, since the mid 1990s, an all-white Board of Commissioners. But unlike Parran, whos running at his own calling, Gray is answering a call.
|Grace Mary Brady hopes to be one of five Democrats who makes it to the November general election for Calvert County Commissioner.
That is the call of his community, the Civic Association of West Lusby-Appeal of which he is president. I was, he explains, drafted to run after the county Planning and Zoning Commission decided to put a landfill in an agricultural preservation and residential district in Lusby.
Gray comes from the grass roots, but hes no parochial candidate. Retired from Sollers Wharfs St. Johns United Methodist Church in Lusby, he has spent years seeing into the human heart. So hes quick to point out that planning and zoning is his countys most sensitive issue. Every community shares the same issue, says he.
In quick order, Gray plays the regions second most popular theme: citizen empowerment. Im no expert, he says. My strategy is giving the people a voice.
Wily or wise, Gray also knows how hell get out the 3,200 or so votes hell need to win him that right. Im a minister, he says. I go church to church and have an open door.
Winning the Right to Criticize
Grace Mary Brady is a behind-the-scenes pol. Daughter of Democratic activist Grace Rymer and stepdaughter of retired judge Thomas Rymer, she is in her own right the chair of the countys Democratic Central Committee.
Shes also a member of the countys citizen planning committee. Brady knows everybody and has a hand in all good work done in the county over the past two decades, from funds for fallen firemen to Hospice to Friends of the Library.
Im not one of those who just hop in three months before the election, she says. Calvert County is what Ive been about for 20 years.
She hopes to move from backstage to front now, she says, because If you dont step up to the plate, you dont have a right to criticize those that do.
She might have said more, but she had voters to woo.
Reporter Brent Seabrook and researcher Cynthia Owens contributed to this story.
Youve Got to be Registered To Vote
If you dont step up to the plate, you dont have a right to criticize those that do, says Calvert County Board of Commissioners candidate Grace Mary Brady.
Which is good advice for voters, too.
Before you can vote in Maryland, you must first register.
To vote in the September 10 primary, you must be at least 18 years old by November 5 and by registered by August 20.
If you miss out on the primary, you can register from September 23 until October 15 and still cast your vote in the general election on November 5.
You simply fill out a form. Registration forms are available in all state offices, including the Motor Vehicle Administration and Social Services plus all libraries and any Post Office. Drop your registration post card in the mail. Two weeks later, youll receive by mail your voter notification card confirming your registration and directing you to your polling place.
There is, however, one string attached. In primary elections, Maryland voters cast their ballots by political party. If youre not registered as a Democrat or a Republican, you cant vote with the exception of Independents, who Republicans have invited to vote on their ticket.