Campaign trail keeps Howard's Rappaports apart CAMPAIGN 1994


Paul Rappaport was campaigning at last month's Howard County Fair in his bid for lieutenant governor when he crossed paths with another politician -- his wife.

The fair was one of a few times that Paul and Margaret Rappaport -- one of a handful of married couples seeking elected offices in Maryland this year -- have seen each other, either on the campaign trail or at their Ellicott City home.

Mrs. Rappaport, seeking a second term as Howard County's clerk of the Circuit Court, described herself and her husband as the proverbial ships that pass in the night.

"In the last four months, I seldom see him," Mrs. Rappaport said of her husband. "I would like to be with him, but I can't. I don't get votes outside of Howard County."

For Mr. Rappaport, a 60-year-old lawyer who is the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the campaign leads to the Eastern Shore one day, Western Maryland the next.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rappaport, 59, attends civic events, visits shopping centers and goes door-to-door in Howard County. For her, that's where the votes are.

The Republican couple, married for nearly 30 years, is a study of contrasts that complement one another.

A former police chief, Mr. Rappaport is seeking his first elective office.

Mrs. Rappaport, once an elementary school teacher, is bubbly and outgoing, one who caught the political bug in her teens and is now running with it. It was her ties that led her husband to meet Mrs. Sauerbrey and get his first taste of politics.

Intrigued by politics

Mrs. Rappaport said politics has always intrigued her, since her days as a Young Republican after attending high school in Anne Arundel County. But she kept her ambitions on the back burner.

"I always liked politics," she said. "But I never had a chance to do it. I was working. The children came and they came first."

The Rappaports have a daughter together, while Mrs. Rappaport has a son and daughter from a previous marriage that ended in 1959.

In 1986, after her youngest child graduated from high school, Mrs. Rappaport's name appeared on a ballot for the first time -- as a Democratic candidate for Orphan's Court in Howard County.

Mrs. Rappaport said she joined the Democratic Party so she could mount a winning campaign in a county that was a one-party town. She added that her husband was then a Democrat.

But Mrs. Rappaport was labeled a "carpetbagger" by political insiders. Despite no endorsements and no party support, she became the top vote-getter on the ballot.

Once in office, Mrs. Rappaport went back to the GOP, with an eye on her next race, Clerk of Circuit Court, where she would face Democrat C. Merritt Pumphrey, a 22- year incumbent once seen as unbeatable.

Again, she got more votes than any other candidate in any race. Mrs. Rappaport said she hasn't stopped campaigning for her re-election bid this year since her upset victory in 1990.

Robert Kittleman, the minority whip in the state House of Delegates, describes Mrs. Rappaport as a natural politician.

Mr. Kittleman, a Republican who represents Howard County, said Mrs. Rappaport once spent two hours at a grocery store, going up and down the aisles meeting people while buying only a few items.

Leslie Jean Cale, Mrs. Rappaport's Democratic challenger in November, said that it will be difficult to unseat the incumbent. "I

can't outshine her," Ms. Cale said.

From police to politics

Paul Rappaport joined the state police in 1951, as a 17-year-old, starting as a barracks clerk who was responsible for answering telephones, dispatching service calls and sometimes cooking meals for the troopers who lived on-site.

He became a trooper after graduating from the police academy in 1955. Mr. Rappaport, who earned a law degree in 1974 after 11 years of night school, became a detective and later a major in charge of the agency's investigation division.

In 1979, Mr. Rappaport was appointed police chief by Howard County Executive J. Hugh Nichols, then a Democrat. He was chief until 1987, when he was dismissed by the next executive, M. Elizabeth Bobo.

Mr. Rappaport, who considers himself to be a moderate, switched to the GOP while he was Howard's police chief, along (( with his wife and Mr. Nichols.

For Mr. Rappaport, the race for lieutenant governor is the beginning and the end of his political career. If he and Mrs. Sauerbrey win, he said he'll be satisfied with one or two terms as lieutenant governor. If the ticket loses, so be it.

Mr. Rappaport met Mrs. Sauerbrey through his wife. Mrs. Sauerbrey asked him to head a committee on public-safety issues for her campaign.

Mr. Rappaport well remembers the day Mrs. Sauerbrey invited him to join her ticket: Dec. 5, 1993. He said he considered the offer -- for about 10 seconds -- and then agreed to it.

"I had no idea I was going to be involved in politics," he said. "I was honored to be selected. What she wants me to do is what I know best."

To Mrs. Sauerbrey, a Baltimore County delegate, her ticket with Mr. Rappaport made sense: She would oversee financial and budgetary matters while he would handle public safety issues -- the cornerstones of her campaign.

"It was a natural to me, if I was really going to put an emphasis on law enforcement, to choose Paul Rappaport," Mrs. Sauerbrey said.

A stormy year

The final year of Mr. Rappaport's tenure as Howard's police chief was a stormy one.

In May 1986, the county Police Officers Association voted no confidence in Mr. Rappaport, called for his removal and took out advertisements listing its complaints. In response, Mr. Rappaport ordered an investigation of the officers responsible for the ads but backed off when the union sued to block the probe.

Later in 1986, the agency was criticized by the county Human Relations Commission for not hiring and promoting more blacks and women.

When Ms. Bobo came in as County Executive in January 1987, the Democrat said, she wanted Mr. Rappaport to continue as chief. But after about six months, she said, the arrangement was not working and she fired Mr. Rappaport.

Mrs. Sauerbrey said she and Mr. Rappaport had "very honest discussions" about his years as chief. She said the criticisms of his administration are unfair.

Charles Ellenberger, a former corporal who was president of the police union, said Mr. Rappaport did not deserve to be the target of criticism.

Mr. Ellenberger said many of the problems occurred while the department and its officers were negotiating the first union contract.

"[Police chiefs] can only do what the county administration lets them do," said Mr. Ellenberger, who retired in 1990. "He had a lot of restraints on him by the powers that be."

Mr. Ellenberger, who operates a private investigations firm in Ellicott City, supports the Sauerbrey-Rappaport ticket and served on Mrs. Sauerbrey's public safety committee.

Mutual support

For years, Mr. Rappaport was his wife's No. 1 supporter.

Now, Mrs. Rappaport is finding that it's her turn to be supportive. She often has her volunteers do campaign work for the Sauerbrey-Rappaport ticket when they're not busy with work for her campaign.

The Rappaports are one of about a half-dozen couples seeking political offices this year, state election officials say. Most couples are seeking offices in county government.

The Rappaports maintain that their marriage, one built on mutual respect and support, can withstand the pressures of the campaign trail.

"[The campaign] is not going to be forever," Mrs. Rappaport said. "It's going to end soon. And then we're going on vacation."

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