Jones hoping for success as write-in

Julian Earl Jones Jr. is prepping for what he calls the "big blitz."

Jones is mobilizing volunteers from his primary bid for a Baltimore County Council seat that he lost by just 98 votes to Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, the Democratic incumbent. He's using those workers and others to build support in his write-in campaign for the same seat — the type of campaign that almost never succeeds in Maryland.

Most write-in candidates don't have enough money or name recognition to win. But Jones, a division chief in the Anne Arundel County Fire Department who placed a close second in a six-way primary race, has a good shot, said Donald F. Norris, who heads the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"If Jones is able to pull together a coalition, get support from one of the others and get the word out, then it's conceivable that he could win," Norris said.

There has been only one successful write-in campaign for a county or state office in Maryland, according to state elections officials.

Stephen J. Del Giudice had scandal on his side when he made history with his 1990 election to the Prince George's County Council.

Looking back, Del Giudice said that he benefited from a perfect storm of sorts: an incumbent who withdrew from the race; the backing of the Democratic Party; and heavy media coverage because of the incumbent's legal problems. Incumbent Anthony Cicoria was convicted of misappropriating campaign funds less than a week before the election. It was too late to take his name off the ballot, but he backed Del Giudice.

"A lot of people knew by the time they came to the polls that there was a write-in campaign," said Del Giudice, former mayor of Takoma Park. "It's a matter of getting the word out and saturating whatever avenues you have available."

This year, more than 30 write-in candidates statewide, including Jones, are hoping to match Del Giudice's feat. Most recently, a write-in candidate has come forward to challenge state Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat and former head of a powerful budget committee who is facing federal bribery charges. Currie had been unopposed in the primary.

Write-in candidates must focus their efforts on rallying people to take that extra step at the voting booth, experts said.

Candidates whose names appear on the ballot mostly have to depend on voters recognizing them, said Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. Write-in candidates have to depend on them remembering it.

"Recognition is a lot easier than remembering, particularly for those who are older or in a hurry," Herrnson said.

Del Giudice used 150 campaign volunteers and 100 Democratic poll workers to explain the voting process. Volunteers distributed 15,000 custom-made pencils with his name and instructions printed on them.

Jones said he's leaving nothing to chance in his bid for the seat, which covers Woodlawn, Randallstown, Owings Mills and Reisterstown. He has lined up support from Leronia Josey, who placed third in the primary and raised approximately $6,000, about half of his primary campaign treasury. Mailings and phone solicitations are also in the works.

"I'm convinced that, looking at the vote counts, my biggest handicap is making sure that everyone knows how to vote for me," Jones said. "Once you educate them on the process, it's going to work out."

Jones said he thinks Oliver is vulnerable because he hasn't aggressively represented the district. Oliver has also been tainted by scandal. In July 2009, he pleaded guilty to pocketing $2,300 in funds donated to his campaign, agreeing in a plea deal to a $2,500 fine and 50 hours of community service.

He shook off those challenges to narrowly win the primary. And he isn't taking any chances in the general election.

The two-term councilman has more than $17,200 in cash on hand and a slew of prominent supporters, including County Executive James T. Smith Jr., and endorsements from the county teachers, firefighters and public employees unions.

Though there's no Republican opponent in the general election, Oliver said his re-election campaign is far from over.

He plans to highlight his accomplishments, which he said include new community and senior centers, senior housing and economic development in Owings Mills, while meeting, greeting and calling voters in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election.

"I'm going to continue my campaign like I'm running against another candidate," Oliver said.

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