With his announcement a week ago that he was dropping out of politics, County Executive Robert R. Neall officially assumed the status of lame duck.
But most political observers -- from both parties -- believe Mr. Neall is far from being crippled. Rather, without the distraction of a governor's race and a political future, he could become even more effective.
"When you're going to run, you have to go along with the pressure groups," said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, the dean of the county's Democrats. "But when you're not going to run, you can do what's responsible.
"I think he'll do a little less back-slapping, ribbon cutting and baby kissing," Mr. Wagner said, "but I expect that he'll see this thing through and leave the next county executive in a good fiscal position."
"He has nothing to lose," said Del. John Gary, a friend of Mr. Neall's who is contemplating a run for county executive. "I think Mr. Neall is going to lay some tough issues on [the County Council], and they will either have to measure up or face the public when they go out for election."
Robert C. Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association and a frequent foe of Mr. Neall, said this last year of the county executive's term offers a chance to continue reducing the size of government.
"I think he can chip away. It's a marvelous opportunity to further reduce personnel," Mr. Schaeffer said.
Mr. Neall agreed that dropping out of the governor's race will give him more time to devote attention to the county.
"If I were running for governor, I wouldn't be a lame duck, I'd be a dead duck," Mr. Neall said. "I won't be out there trying to renew my lease or running for office. So I think there's still a lot we can accomplish and I fully intend to."
Mr. Neall rattled off several capital projects he has started and wants to either see completed or advanced, including plans for a new circuit courthouse, expanding the detention center, solving the county's landfill problems and continuing with school construction. On the operating side of the budget, he would like to continue his overhaul of the employee pension system and the county's self-insurance fund.
But Mr. Neall still must deal with the County Council, which could get a little feisty now that members see the county executive has less political leverage.
"They say when you're a lame duck people can't count on things. They can't count on your support later. It's just what is believed in politics," said Councilwoman Maureen Lamb. The term also applies to Ms. Lamb, as well as to council members David G. Boschert and Virginia Clagett, who all must leave office next year because of the term limit law.
"We'll have to see what happens," said Ms. Lamb, who has clashed politically with Mr. Neall. "It won't make any difference to me, because I haven't gotten anything from him anyway."
Carl G. Holland, a Republican who swept into office along with Mr. Neall, said he bases his expectations for the next year on the county executive's performance.
"He's been effective for the first three years of his term. I have no reason to think anything would change," Mr. Holland said.
Mr. Boschert, the council president, said Mr. Neall has had a habit of keeping council members in the dark when he is contemplating some initiative, then springing a bill on them and expecting them to fall into line.
"That's one concern I've always had with the executive, that his communication skills with the council have not always been the best," Mr. Boschert said. "This is a joint venture and we're all elected to work for the betterment of the county and its people. And I hope it's a two-way street."
Mr. Boschert pointed to May's budget deliberations, when Mr. Neall and the council battled over funding schools, cutting the property tax rate and giving raises to county employees. Mr. Neall insisted he would not send a supplemental budget to the council, but did so shortly before the final vote on the budget.
The council president also pointed to Mr. Neall's attempt two years ago to build a jail in Glen Burnie.
"He was working on it and didn't let us know anything," Mr. Boschert said. "Give me a call and tell me what's going on so you don't hit me between the eyes."
Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus, who Mr. Neall narrowly beat in the 1988 county executive race, predicted a tough year ahead. "If the budget of this year is any indication, next year should be worse for him," Mr. Sophocleus said. "It's going to be a difficult budget session for him if he doesn't cooperate with the council."
Even though Mr. Neall may not have to worry about political considerations, the council -- even the three departing members, who hope to run for other offices -- do.
"I think you'll see a lot of gamesmanship," Mr. Sophocleus said. "Lots of jockeying for position . . . and people expediting their move up the ladder."