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Baltimore County Republicans choose Kolbe as chairman

After months of leadership drama within the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, the group chose Towson businessman Steve Kolbe as its new chairman Monday night.

Kolbe, a relative newcomer to the committee but a familiar face in county political circles for his activism in years passed, was elected in a special vote by the committee following the resignation of former chairman Tony Campbell last month.

Campbell resigned amid a storm of complaints from other committee members that his leadership was divisive, uninspired and ineffective. He had been criticized for supporting a Democrat to lead the county council, for failing to raise sufficient funding at group events, and for taking stances on issues without consulting the rest of the committee, according to committee members. Kolbe was among his detractors.

Campbell said he resigned "instead of having a fractured Republican party," and that many of the complaints against stemmed from other committee members' resentment of his being elected in the first place.

"It's no secret that some of the people on the committee opposed me being chairman, and didn't want to follow my leadership," he said.

The group's bylaws call for its chairman to be elected during the Republican primary election, which Campbell was. However, in the case of a chairman's resignation, the committee has 30 days to elect a new chairman through an internal vote, according to Tom Henry, the group's second vice chair.

Kolbe, who campaigned for the chairmanship against fellow committee member Al Mendelsohn, won with an 18-10 internal vote on the first round of balloting.

"I'm humbled by the opportunity that my fellow Republicans have given to me, and I'm looking forward to getting to work," Kolbe said. "It's all about party unity. Our party stands firm together."

Kolbe described Mendelsohn as a "good friend" who will continue to play a role in moving the group forward.

During his campaign, Kolbe had the support of various elected Republican officials, including county Dels. Bill Frank and Sue Aumann.

Both Frank and Aumann praised Kolbe as a sharp-minded, politically savvy leader.

"Steve is a very hard worker, he's a good fundraiser, he is a consensus-builder, and I think he is extremely intelligent," Frank said. "All of those qualities will make him an excellent chairman."

"He's trying to rally the troops to become more involved and responsive," Aumann said. "I think that he's looking for more unity and coordination, to have a bigger impression upon people, and I think that's important. I think that's what we need."

Another committee member, Herman "Woody" Wood, agreed.

"This is hopefully going to be a regrouping and a restart, and hopefully the road will smooth out and we'll be able to get our objectives done."

Henry said the fact that Kolbe has been on the committee for only a few months was a concern for some members, but that the balloting was entirely cordial and professional, as people are willing to give Kolbe a shot.

"I think he has the energy to get things done," Henry said. "I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach."

Wood said he is not concerned with the brevity of Kolbe's service on the committee, noting Kolbe has other political experience -- including taking a leading role in fighting the "tech tax" in 2007 and battling laws restricting the size of political signs during Robert Ehrlich's campaign for governor last year.

"He's been around for more than a couple months," Wood said. "He's been around for quite some time."

Campbell, a former Army chaplain, said Kolbe will likely face "different challenges" than he faced, and will have a "leg up" with other committee members because they voted him in themselves. Still, Campbell said, Kolbe's business experience won't make him a shoe-in as a successful committee leader.

"A committee is a totally different thing, as I learned the hard way," he said. "It's not being a CEO, it's not being a chaplain. It's a lot of different personalities that hopefully you keep going in the same direction."

For his part, Kolbe wants to forget the tensions of the last several months and start planning a new course for the committee, which has its hands full in a Democratic-leaning state.

"We're moving forward. We're not going to linger in the past here. What's done is done," he said.

"We have a plan of action, and our committee stands unified and ready to get to work."

Kolbe, 34, lives on Dulaney Valley Road with his wife, Samantha, and two children, Emily, 9, and William, 3. He still works for the technology company, ANALYSYS, that he founded when he was 18 years old and sold last year.

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