Arundel council unable to resolve impasse over new member

Members of the Anne Arundel County Council said Tuesday that they see no end in sight to an impasse over the selection of a new colleague, as they remained deadlocked through a second round of voting on a replacement for the incarcerated Daryl D. Jones.

Supporters of one of the candidates, Peter I. Smith, accused County Executive John R. Leopold's administration of working behind the scenes for rival Michael J. Wagner, a longtime friend of a Leopold aide who died this month.

Wagner, a former state senator, said he was encouraged to apply for the vacant District 1 seat by Dennis M. Callahan, who was the county's chief administrative officer until his death Feb. 8 from a heart attack.

"Dennis encouraged me to do it; I never dreamed of getting back in this mess," said Wagner, a Ferndale Democrat. "He thought I was the best person. Maybe Mr. Leopold doesn't want me. But if he wants the best candidate, he probably wants me."

Wagner said despite Callahan's prompting, he never spoke directly with Leopold and is unsure if he supports him.

Councilman Jerry Walker, a Gambrills Republican who has sometimes voted across partisan lines to the ire of his party, criticized the administration's apparent lobbying.

"Callahan was his right-hand man," said Walker. "Mr. Leopold's trying to stack the deck with another vote. It's clearly obvious to even the casual observer. The good old boys' network — that's what it looks like, that's what it smells like."

Dave Abrams, a spokesman for the county executive, said Leopold did not advocate for Wagner to any members of the council, though he acknowledged he was "aware" that Callahan had spoken with Wagner about his candidacy.

"The county executive worked with Mike Wagner in the legislature and was impressed by his abilities but would be happy with whoever the council selects to fill the vacancy," said Abrams. "The county executive didn't lobby anyone himself."

On Tuesday, the council postponed for a second time voting on a replacement for Jones, a Severn Democrat whose seat the council vacated when he began serving a five-month federal prison term last month.

The council received 10 applications for the seat and at a public meeting last Thursday, after more than 100 rounds of voting over 41/2 hours, narrowed the contenders to two: Wagner, who served in the state Senate from 1982 to 1994, and Smith, a Marine reservist from Severn.

The next vote is scheduled for March 5, though several members conceded that not much seems likely to change.

After the latest delay, Smith said he was hoping for a resolution. "I'm so glad this isn't a military action because we would have failed."

Walker has joined Democrats Jamie Benoit of Crownsville and Chris Trumbauer of Annapolis in supporting Smith. Republicans Derek Fink of Pasadena, John J. Grasso of Glen Burnie and Richard B. "Dick" Ladd of Broadneck are backing Wagner.

Benoit said he's been heavily lobbied by developers and other county politicians on behalf of Wagner.

"A lot of people are calling, and the nature of those calls is … they ooze self-interest," said Benoit. "The other side is just so emblematic of the decay and the corrosive nature of self-interest politics.

Grasso said the council is likely to remain deadlocked on who should fill the seat and said it would be a "victory" for county residents to have a six-member council.

"The four Democrats last time controlled the budget process," said Grasso, referring to Walker, a Republican, as a Democrat. "Now we don't have to worry about that. I'm fine if we don't appoint a new member."

Wagner has donated to several elected officials over the years, including $1,000 to Leopold in the 2010 election cycle. He has also received criticism for attending a fundraiser for Ladd days before the council voted on the candidates, though Ladd returned his donation to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Wagner, who declined to say how much he attempted to donate, dismissed allegations of a quid-pro-quo.

"I've lived in this district for 66 years," said Wagner, who is 70. "I know every nook and cranny of it. … I know the district. I know the players."

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