You could hear the voice, but the candidate was nowhere to be seen.
The voice was enough.
Standing less than 5 feet tall in heels, Joan Cadden was completely obscured by the podium at the Roland Terrace Democratic Club last month as she campaigned for a District 31 House of Delegates seat.
But as she joked about her height and prepared to introduce U.S.
Representative Tom McMillen, Cadden's voice -- high-pitched, steady and confident -- carried throughout the Brooklyn Park hall.
Finally, someone brought out an old-fashioned soapbox and the redheaded Cadden, a Brooklyn Park businesswoman and beautician, emerged.
"I'm not standing next to McMillen without that," said Cadden, ribbing both herself and the lanky, 6-foot-10 congressman.
During last month's Democratic primary, Cadden had no trouble being heard or seen.
The mother of four children, Cadden parlayed 20 years of activity with youth recreation leagues, various PTAs, civic associations and the county Board of Education into an impressive victory.
The former school board vice president led a crowded field of candidates, winning one of three party nominations to the Nov. 6 general election. She surprised many by capturing 572 more votes than the leader of the other two winners, incumbents W. Ray Huff and Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski.
Cadden, 49, campaigned on a platform touting her educational experience and her commitment to clean up the North County environment.
Cadden's controversial departure from the school board in 1988 -- the subject of newspaper headlines for more than a year -- helped get her name out before the public, observers said. But the real strength of Cadden's campaign was a volunteer organization that walked door to door day and night during the final weeks.
Rosemarie Church, a Democratic candidate who lost in the primary, said she and Cadden were running neck and neck for the third nomination behind Huff and Kolodziejski down the stretch. But, in the end, Cadden leapfrogged the others.
"She just networked with all the people she met through the years," said Church, the county's director of community services. "That's her grass-roots organization."
Coming from Brooklyn Park, where more than 50 percent of the registered Democrats voted in the primary, also helped Cadden, Church said.
"Brooklyn Park is the place to be from because they turn out en masse there," she said.
Cadden entered the political fray seven years ago, when she was appointed to the county Board of Education.
"There was a need for someone from North County to be on the school board," said Cadden, who was encouraged to run by County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, and outgoing board member Barbara MacCoy.
Cadden was the nominating convention's third choice for the open seat.
But North County lawmakers -- including then-Sen. Jerome F. Connell and then-Delegate Philip C. Jimeno -- lobbied Gov. Harry Hughes to tap Cadden.
Ironically, five years later, another nominating convention and a different governor would produce different results.
Cadden was the 1988 nominating convention's first choice to serve a second term on the school board. But Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- on County Executive O. James Lighthizer's recommendation -- passed her over in favor of Vincent Leggett, a former school system planner and then the director of the county housing authority.
Lighthizer readily admits that he pushed Cadden out because of "philosophical differences" over salaries for teachers and other school employees.
"Please don't interpret that as a criticism of Joan," Lighthizer said last week. "I like Joan, but I had basic philosophical differences with the whole board.
"When the governor gave me the option, I decided to make some changes."
Cadden, who still had the support of county legislators, says Lighthizer never forgave the board for pushing a 9 percent pay increase for teachers in 1987 -- at a time when the county administration insisted it could afford only 5 percent. The teachers got 5 percent but the following year signed a three-year contract calling for 9 percent annual raises.
"When she didn't get back on the school board -- which was real travesty -- I was terribly disappointed," said Lamb, a former school board member herself. "At that point, I encouraged her to get organized and run for public office."
During her five years on the board -- including two as vice president -- Cadden lobbied consistently to keep North County's small schools open and improve programs there. But her tireless work countywide won the admiration of her school board colleagues.
"She was, and still is, a businesswoman," said school board President Nancy Gist. "But I saw her reschedule (business) appointments just to verify walking distances and to listen to parents' concerns."
"She never seemed to tire," board member Dorothy Chaney said. "Her interest was unending."
"When she undertakes a task, it will be completed," former board member Jane Andrew said. "There is no question."
Andrew remembered Cadden, just a few days after her appointment, jumping into a car and driving to Galesville for a look at Carrie Weedon Elementary School, which had been slated for closing.
"She wanted to get a feel for the neighborhood and whether it was appropriate to close it," Andrew said.
Cadden was particularly adept at dealing with controversial issues -- including school closings, redistricting and budget priorities -- that often put the board, teachers, parents and county administration at odds, her colleagues said.
Cadden eventually supported the closure of Carrie Weedon -- a position that didn't sit well with some of her North County constituents, who were concerned the same fate awaited such small schools as Solley and Ferndale elementaries. During her term, she also voted in favor of keeping Ferndale on a list of schools to be considered for closing.
But Cadden agonized for weeks over the Carrie Weedon decision before deciding that a school with only 86 students simply could not offer a full curriculum. And she never voiced support for closing any other schools in the county.
"Joan's style was a sophisticated form of negotiation," Chaney said.
"She would see what everyone's interests in a particular project were and try to reach a consensus by taking a little bit from everyone."
"She's very articulate and good at making an issue real for anyone listening to her," former board member John Wisthoff said. "I think that's the key to her political savvy."
Not everyone is impressed by Cadden's experience on the school board.
Evelyn Kampmeyer, one of three Republican delegate candidates, said Cadden is not as strong on education as she might appear.
"She is (an education candidate) if you call education school construction," said Kampmeyer, a retired high school principal. "She's very good at getting buildings built. But when it comes to actual education programs, no, she isn't."
Kampmeyer said Cadden and the school board probably spent more on building schools than necessary.
"I'd call her a spendthrift candidate," Kampmeyer said, adding that Cadden supported substantial teacher raises without making them more accountable for student achievement.
"I don't think we were frivolous," said Cadden, who is backed by the school employees unions. "I think we were very serious and knew that we were spending the people's money."
Those who watched Cadden on the school board said her greatest weakness may be a sense of inferiority. Cadden, who has run her own beauty parlor for 13 years, graduated from Brooklyn Park High School but never went to college.
Cadden herself said that she worries people won't take a beautician seriously. She refused to be photographed in her shop, located in the basement of her Brooklyn Park home, for this article.
"Sometimes she stands in awe of people with (college) degrees," Wisthoff said. "I would put her up against anyone in terms of digging into issues and understanding them."
"People were apprehensive at first because they didn't think she had the right (college) background (to serve on the board)," Lamb said. "But Joan brought a wider perspective.
"I have long believed people have to graduate from high school with skills," Lamb said. "They don't all go to college. Joan believed that, too, and she pushed for better vocational education."
Since her term ended, Cadden has focused her energies on the Brooklyn Park community.
She helped resurrect the Greater Brooklyn Park Council, in part to ease the community strain caused by the merger of Andover and Brooklyn Park high schools. Cadden was an early and ardent supporter of the merger, contending it was the only way to ensure a full curriculum for students at the two schools.
She also became a community liaison for the Maryland Waste Coalition and a lobbyist for the state council of PTAs. Both positions took her to Annapolis last spring.
She testified at committee hearings for several bills to curb air pollution along the heavily industrialized Baltimore City-North County border and to require the State Highway Administration to post slower traffic speeds in school zones.
A single clean air law passed -- SB 754, which requires large, new smokestack industries to prepare environmental impact studies. The school zone bill failed.
Last year, she lobbied with the state PTA to grant parent-teacher groups tax-exempt status.
Those experiences at the State House persuaded Cadden to run for the seat being vacated by Delegate John R. Leopold, R-Pasadena. After discussing the matter with her family, particularly her husband, Cadden entered the race last spring.
"I'm really lucky to have such a nice family, and they've all worked for me," she said. "At a fund-raiser recently, I said I wanted my family to come up front. Then, when 35 people walked up, someone said, 'It's no wonder she won.' "