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Long Shot Deserves Better than Silence


When he picks up the newspaper to read about the Anne Arundel County executive's race, Larry Walker knows where to look for his name. It'll be in the last sentence of the last paragraph, often accompanied by that hated word, "neophyte."

Not that he expects to see his name at all. Half the time reporters and columnists don't even mention that he's a Democratic candidate.

"Even Louise Beauregard" -- the daffy Annapolis lady who runs for something in every state, county or city election -- "gets more press than I do," he says. "I mean, I do run a company. I do work in a helicopter."

Larry Walker is no Louise Beauregard. He's no Bill Steiner, either. Remember him? He was the beefy Pasadena bar owner who ran against County Executive Robert R. Neall four years ago on a platform of legalizing slot machines. He was convicted of receiving stolen shotguns and household appliances two weeks before the primary.

At this point, Mr. Walker's chances of winning are about the same as theirs: slim and none.

But they were long shots who didn't deserve to be taken seriously. He's a long shot who does. There's a big difference.

At 49, Mr. Walker is a veteran county police officer -- a corporal -- who's been attracted to politics for 20 years. He was ready to run for the House of Delegates in 1972 but backed off when discouraged by the county police chief. He decided he loved his job too much to risk it.

From all indications, he has been a good citizen and a dedicated employee. He runs his own air charter business. He heads the police department's new helicopter patrol.

He dresses impeccably and believes in "Abraham Lincoln and cherry pie and and life, liberty and justice for all."

Larry Walker is so earnest, it almost makes you uncomfortable. He's not the type that can laugh at himself. And though politics at times can be a goofy circus, he doesn't see the humor. He's serious about what he's doing.

"When I see something wrong, I feel duty bound to correct it. I see things going wrong," he says.

The Neall administration, he contends, is well on its way to ruining government services (a message that, interestingly, is basically the same as that of the Democratic favorite in the race, Ted Sophocleus).

Like most county workers, Mr. Walker blames Mr. Neall for "bringing the morale of county employees to an all-time low." For being a "dictatorial autocrat." For doing far less to eliminate waste and manage Anne Arundel County's finances than the press and the political establishment give him credit for.

He clearly has given a great deal of thought to how he would do things differently. "I know," he says, "that I can run this county better than anyone out there."

That, of course, is arguable. Mr. Walker's resume includes some interesting highlights, such as overseeing renovations of the police academy and the now-defunct Careers Center under the Robert Pascal administration. Basically, however, he has been a street cop these last 26 years.

But he's an intelligent, thoughtful man who cares about making his community a better place, the kind of person one likes to see getting involved in local politics.

He would have been a strong candidate for Democratic Central Committee, County Council or the House of Delegates, but dismissed those offices as "a pecking order I don't have time for or patience for or tolerance for."

With three other serious Democratic contenders running for executive, I even think he could be a legitimate dark horse in this primary -- if he were more politically savvy.

He seems, however, to believe you can jump into the race for the highest elected office in the county and expect to make a serious challenge based primarily on good intentions and a belief in yourself. It is not being cynical to say that is naive and unrealistic.

Mr. Walker says that while he was a pilot for then-Rep. Tom McMillen, he confided his interest in running for executive to one of the congressman's aides.

The aide advised him that, if he hoped to have any chance at all, he should campaign shrewdly and innovatively, perhaps piquing the media's interest by "playing cat and mouse" before announcing, perhaps finding a gimmick -- something that suited his serious personality but would make his name known.

He didn't listen.

On Jan. 5, he made a straightforward announcement. Since then, he's handed out 10,000 flyers (designed on his home computer), assembled signs in his driveway and ridden in some parades.

He has a "very small handful" of volunteers, no paid staff, no campaign manager. He expects to spend no more than $25,000 in a primary where other campaigns will run over $100,000.

Mr. Walker hopes media coverage over the next month and a half will help voters learn who he is, but he does not seem overly concerned about the critical name recognition issue.

"I don't have to sell myself to the world," Mr. Walker says. "I don't have to sell myself to anyone."

He does, though. Because even if he's the most qualified person in the county, it won't matter if, come Sept. 13, people are still asking, "Who's Larry Walker, anyway?"

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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