Grasso gambles on long campaign for county executive

Anne Arundel County Councilman John Grasso announced his candidacy for county executive two years ahead of the 2014 election in hopes that the extended campaign will give voters time to "build up a tab of likes and dislikes of John Grasso."

The first-term Republican said he declared this month in order to give voters ample opportunity to learn about him and to judge his actions while knowing he aspires to become county executive.

"I want the people to have plenty of time," Grasso said. "They'll either hate me or they'll love me. I hope they love me."

Despite the drawbacks of a prolonged campaign — cost, lame-duck status as a councilman, difficulty in building momentum and plenty of time for opponents to attack — Grasso might be making a smart gamble, said Anne Arundel Community College political science professor Dan Nataf.

This way, the electorate can sort out whether they want a candidate who's "a little eccentric, an individual, and someone who goes his own way," Nataf said.

"He certainly is his own style of candidate," Nataf said. "He's more likely to say things in a way that's politically incorrect or off-beat. ... Either people like that and think it's a breath of fresh air or they think, 'No, I want someone that's a little more traditional.' "

Grasso has been in the news for his unconventional ideas to raise money and solve problems in his district, where he calls himself a "mini-county executive."

His plans to stream cash into county coffers involve launching a bottled-water company that draws from county wells and scrutinizing policies that leave recyclables in landfills. He formed a nonprofit to install fountains in Marley Creek, with the intention that the aeration would pump oxygen into the water and stave off annual fish kills.

Grasso has also drawn attention for his outspoken style that can rub constituents and other officials the wrong way, from voters who complained about his conduct outside a polling precinct to his declaration that the county was "at war" with the school system after a funding spat.

Grasso, a self-described millionaire from Glen Burnie who owns a property management company, also said he would return "more than 50 percent" of the county executive salary to the taxpayers.

If successful, Grasso could make political history in Anne Arundel County. No other candidate has gone from directly from the County Council to the county executive's office, though at least two have tried in the past 15 years.

Political observers expect a primary contest for the open seat that will be left behind by term-limited Republican County Executive John R. Leopold.

State Sen. Ed Reilly and Dels. Cathy Vitale and Steven R. Schuh, all Republicans, and former GOP U.S. Senate candidate Daniel Bongino are among those who insiders said are considering a bid. So far, Schuh is leading the fundraising race in a potential contest. He had more than $250,000 in his campaign account as of March, the most recent filing available.

Schuh said Thursday that it was too soon to announce any plans. Reilly and Vitale said they were considering running for the job.

Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee Chairman Alan Rzepkowski said the county's Republican Party would not endorse any candidates in the primary but hopes the emerging victor "will continue the policies of fiscal conservatism," adding all the possible contenders "fit that bill."

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