This spring, County Councilman John Grasso announced plans to run for state Senate in northern Anne Arundel. But he spent most of the past week sign-waving along Aris T. Allen Boulevard in Annapolis — south of the district he hopes to represent.
Has Grasso lost his way?
No. It's just that he's also mulling a run for county executive — or maybe for governor.
Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, said Friday he's considering all three options for 2018, when his second term on the council is up. The sign he printed for roadside electioneering doesn't specify a race: all it says, in chunky red letters on a white background, is "Vote John Grasso."
"In this case, all three races are in play," he said. "I'm going to keep all three of them on their toes."
While Grasso's campaign against longtime state Sen. Ed DeGrange, D-Millersville, would seem a logical next step for his political career, a challenge to County Executive Steve Schuh or Gov. Larry Hogan, both fellow Republicans, is much more unusual.
The council chairman, known for his outspokenness, said he's upset with the reappointment of an incumbent Anne Arundel County Liquor Board commissioner and wants to take Hogan and Schuh to task for the decision.
Hogan reappointed John G. Warner, a Republican who has served on the board for more than a decade, as its chairman this spring. The governor replaced the board's two incumbent Democrats, who stepped down in May, with new commissioners.
Grasso, who has frequently accused the liquor board of corruption and favoritism, said he also wants to see Warner gone. In May, he banned the board from meeting in the council's chambers and conference room in Annapolis because of Warner's reappointment — a step unprecedented in the 30-year memory of the board's attorney. The body now meets in a conference room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel off Riva Road instead.
Other council members have also expressed frustration with liquor board leadership. In 2015, the council cut $60,000 from the liquor board's budget over concerns about rising contractual legal fees.
Last September, council members unanimously passed Resolution 58-16, which asked Hogan to appoint all-new members to the board as soon as the incumbents' terms were up.
Grasso compared Warner's reappointment to an incomplete oil change.
"You don't just change half the oil," he said. "They can either remove him from the liquor board or one of them's going to have me as an opponent in the primary, it's just that simple."
When asked about Grasso's campaigning, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse reiterated an earlier statement about the governor's decision to reappoint Warner: "John Warner has served on the board under governors of both parties since 2003 without incident."
Schuh does not have an official say in who sits on the board. Efforts to reach a campaign spokesperson for the county executive were unsuccessful Saturday.
Grasso plans to keep sign-waving "all over the county (and) all over the state." He's headed to Prince George's County next week.
He said it's going well so far: "People down there in south county got the love for me."
His campaigning hasn't received such a warm welcome from the state's Republican party, which hopes to pick up potentially vulnerable seats represented by Democrats in 2018.
Though the Maryland GOP originally lauded Grasso's decision to run for state Senate, chairman Dirk Haire said Saturday that the party recently met with another potential candidate for the seat, though he declined to offer a name.
"Grasso has not shown any interest in Senate District 32," Haire wrote in an email. "As a result, the State Party met with a top-flight potential candidate on Thursday of this week and we are very excited about her and her ability to bring resources and professionalism to the race. We will field a serious and well-funded candidate in District 32."
Haire also criticized Grasso's focus on the liquor board.
"If Grasso thinks a liquor board appointment will carry him to a primary win over County Executive Schuh or Governor Hogan, it makes me wonder if he's spending too much time with liquor," he wrote.
Grasso said he knows he could be putting his political future on the line.
"Here's the problem: I know there's wrongdoing," he said. "And the problem is, if I turn my head around, I just don't feel right about it."
"I'm one of those people, once I get into a fight, I'm going to take it to the end."