By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun
8:58 PM EST, February 15, 2013
Former Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich, Del. Steve Schuh and acting Anne Arundel County Executive John Hammond led a field of 16 applicants Friday to complete the term of former County Executive John R. Leopold.
County Republicans said the unexpected number of applications indicated a healthy interest in setting the county on a path away from the turmoil that has enveloped the government for at least two years.
Leopold, 70, a Republican, resigned midway through his second four-year term this month after his conviction on two counts of misconduct for using county employees to perform personal and political tasks.
The County Council is scheduled to interview candidates next week and choose a replacement to serve through the end of Leopold's term in 2014.
By law, the seven-member council must appoint someone of the same political party as Leopold to fill the $130,000-a-year position. Republicans hold a 4-3 majority on the council.
Alan Rzepkowski, chairman of the Republican Central Committee in Anne Arundel County, said the council may choose from one of two types of applicant: a "safe place-holder" who won't run for the office in 2014 or a candidate who will.
"As chairman of our party," he said, "I hope that all four of our Republicans can get together behind one candidate. But I understand why that may not be so easy."
Schuh, of Gibson Island, is planning a 2014 run for county executive and has more than $500,000 in his campaign treasury.
Not seeking the position in 2014 are Hammond, the county's longtime budget director, and Ehrlich, an attorney and the wife of former Gov. Robert. L. Ehrlich Jr. She is also a member of Schuh's 77-member exploratory committee.
"If 'stay the course' is the way to go, then it's Hammond," said Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. "Maximizing the political advantage, it would be going to Schuh."
If the choice is for a safe technocrat, he said, the council is likely to favor Hammond for his familiarity with county finances and operations entering budget season and negotiations with unions. Ehrlich, he said, has promised change and may be seen as less experienced.
Ehrlich said at a candidate forum this week that her goals include making the government more efficient and restoring dignity.
Schuh said he would make the county a model for the state with moderate taxes and a vigorous economy for a jurisdiction that counts a major airport and federal installations within its borders.
Hammond said Friday that he needs no on-the-job training, has worked for Republicans and Democrats, and wanted to set a tone of collaboration with the council.
Most council members reached Friday weren't entirely familiar with all of the applicants. Several said they would spend the weekend reviewing applications, which include financial disclosure statements and responses to a questionnaire that seeks details on approaches to county issues.
The vote is scheduled Thursday.
While Ehrlich, Schuh and Hammond might be the best-known applications, "there could be people to emerge as a better option," said CouncilmanJamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat.
That's what happened last year when the council replaced Daryl Jones, who was convicted for not filing tax returns, with Peter Smith as the Severn-area council member. But that took 108 rounds of balloting by the six remaining council members.
Others seeking appointment include former officials and candidates. Two are women. At least one is African-American.
"I'm still optimistic that the Republicans will be able to get themselves together and agree on somebody," Benoit said.
But that remains to be seen.
"I don't think anyone has four votes yet," said Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican.
Whether Fink will vote is also uncertain. He is a business partner with Schuh and has asked the county's ethics commission for an advisory opinion on whether that poses a conflict of interest.
Absent from the applicant pool were the two council members who had consideed seeking the appointment.
The county law office sought the legal opinion of a former state solicitor general on the eligibility of sitting council members for the job. Andrew H. Baida, now in private practice in Baltimore, concluded that the county charter prohibited such an appointment.
Council Vice Chairman John Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, said Thursday that he'd decided before Baida issued his opinion this week that he would not seek the executive position.
Council Chairman Jerry Walker, a Gambrills Republican, said the opinion could be challenged, but he decided against applying because he "didn't want additional ethical questions to continue on past the previous administration."
Grasso, who has announced his candidacy for 2014, had praise for the acting executive.
"Hammond's got more knowledge of this county than all of them put together. He knows all the ins and outs," he said.
John G. Gary, who was county executive from 1994 to 1998, is another candidate with no 2014 ambitions.
"If you put someone in there who wants to run in 2014, you'll have contention between everyone who wants to run in 2014," Gary said. "It's a Catch-22 for those council members."
Candidates for county executive
Millard Snowden Sr.
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