Former Anne Arundel County exec runs for office again: 'I have paid my dues'

Former County Executive John Leopold, who resigned after being convicted of abusing that office in 2013, filed Friday to run for a seat in the House of Delegates.

The 74-year-old Pasadena Republican, who served 30 days in jail and another period of house arrest, is running in District 31B, which was created after he left the House in 2006 to serve as county executive. It includes the area he served as a delegate for 20 years.

He said Friday he has paid his dues and still had the passion to help others solve problems.

“After talking to thousands of people over the last two years, most want me to continue to help them,” Leopold said.

With regards to his behavior that led to his conviction and resignation from office, he said: “President (Donald) Trump and former President (Barack) Obama don’t agree on much, but they do agree that people deserve a second chance. I have paid my dues. I have learned my lesson and moved on. I feel I have a responsibility to be ethically impeccable.”

He explained his behavior as misjudgments made during a period of time in which he was suffering pain from surgeries.

“I took my knocks and I have moved on,” he said.

Leopold released a statement Friday listing eight priorities for his campaign, including enhancing STEM programs in schools, strengthening the state’s charter school law and state budget priorities.

He is running for an open seat in the two-delegate district. House Minority Leader Nic Kipke is running for re-election, but freshman Del. Megan Simonaire, both Republicans, reversed course last year and announced she would not run after initially filing for a second term.

Leopold and Kipke will be joined in the June Republican primary by Brian Chisholm, of Severna Park. So far, only one Democrat has filed to run in the district: Harry Freeman, of Pasadena. The filing deadline is Tuesday.

Leopold, who has spent most of his career in elected office — in Maryland and, before that, Hawaii — hasn't campaigned since his resignation, which came three days after he was convicted of ordering police officers in his protection detail to do campaign work for him.

He was also found guilty of abusing his office and, in one instance, made a county employee empty the urine from a catheter bag he used after having back surgery.

Investigation of his behavior began after a 2009 incident in the parking lot of Westfield Annapolis mall when a 911 caller reported seeing apparently naked people in the back of Leopold’s limousine.

The indictment that brought him to trial revealed he had been in an ongoing sexual relationship with a married employee of the Department of Recreation and Parks and approximately $10,000 had been spent of police overtime running interference so the mistress would not cross paths with his live-in companion. Police also drove him to sexual rendezvous with his mistress in Annapolis area parking lots, the indictment read.

The current atmosphere surrounding sexual harassment and workplace ethics marked by the #MeToo movement could be an issue for Leopold.

As to the specific charges related to a sexual relationship with an employee, on which he was not convicted, Leopold said, “It was between consenting adults. That was a totally different story.”

He was sentenced to 400 hours of community service, a $100,000 fine and two years of jail time, with all but 60 days suspended. Leopold spent 30 days in county jail and 30 days on house arrest.

The judge also banned Leopold from running for public office during the five years that followed his sentencing, but that punishment was overturned by a higher court in 2014.

Last year, Leopold confirmed he formed an exploratory committee and launched a website reviewing his accomplishments in office and as the head of his community association.

Former County Councilman Jamie Benoit, who was very vocal during the investigation and following council action on Leopold, said he was not surprised.

He said whether his past indiscretions will hurt him is up to the voters.

“Someone’s conduct, whether it is might be legal but is unethical, is up to the judgement of the voters,” Benoit said. “But in our system he did his time, he is eligible and he is running.”

He added, “It will be a typical John Leopold campaign — he’ll knock on a lot of doors and wave a lot of signs.”

He said Leopold will be a formidable candidate and, if he wins in the primary, could likely win in the general election.

Leopold has served as volunteer chairman of the Greater Pasadena Council Environment Committee, advocating for better air quality monitoring around two-coal fired power plants in Pasadena. He also is president of the Elizabeth’s Landing Community Association.

Leopold also faced civil lawsuits over his actions while at the Arundel Center. A judge ruled in March that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Leopold violated a provision of the Maryland Public Information Act that guards against improper government collection of personal records by using police to collect information on individuals.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and Washington, D.C.-based law firm Wiley Rein, who represented plaintiffs Carl Snowden and Marvenise Harris in court, said the decision set a precedent as the first time a Maryland court recognized the right of citizens to challenge such record collecting.

Snowden and Harris were awarded symbolic damages of $1 each.

Leopold is not the first former county executive to run for a seat in the General Assembly. Former County Executive Robert Neall was appointed to fill a state Senate seat in 1996. He won the election to keep it two years later, but lost in 2002 after switching parties.

Leopold was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1983 and served through 1990. He was re-elected in 1995 and served until he won the race for county executive.

If he is elected in November, County Executive Steve Schuh, a resident of Gibson Island, would be among Leopold's constituents.

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