In a surprise move, New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., a prominent Republican in Carroll County and the state, switched parties yesterday and became a Democrat.
In an Annapolis ceremony attended by Democratic luminaries -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. -- Gullo signed a brief form, changing his affiliation in what he called "a defining career moment".
"I am excited to be Maryland's newest Democrat," the 31-year-old mayor said. "I will still be Jay Gullo, but I can't be stagnant in politics."
Gullo, president of the Maryland Municipal League and one of the youngest mayors in the United States when he was elected in 1993 at age 25, said he has been considering the move for months. Local Republicans do not encourage new issues and open discussion, he said.
"I am not leaving the Republican Party; it left me," Gullo said. "After much thought, I think I can better achieve my community's potential through the environment created by the Democratic Party."
Gullo has amassed a long list of political accomplishments and was considered a comer by many in this solidly Republican county. A self-employed attorney with a practice in his hometown, he was formerly general counsel to the Republican Central Committee and served on the local committee that drafted a county charter, which voters later rejected.
He was elected mayor in a bipartisan election six years ago and re-elected in 1997 by a narrow margin. As municipal league president, he oversees an organization assisting 157 jurisdictions statewide with government issues. When Glendening toured western Carroll last week, he stopped in New Windsor and met privately with the mayor. The governor called Gullo yesterday "a young, articulate, enthusiastic leader of the future."
"We have here not only the mayor of a relatively small town, but a statewide leader," said Glendening. "He's been a leader in a county that quite candidly has not been as aggressive on issues such as sprawl as we'd like."
State Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Republican and leader of the Carroll legislative delegation, said Gullo's "15 seconds of fame may soon be forgotten."
"Jay [Gullo] has been on a fast track his entire career, since he was old enough to run for office, but you don't change parties in Carroll County to run for higher office," said Haines. "It is not wise."
Gullo characterized his personal politics as "progressive conservative", a philosophy that he said no longer meshed with Carroll's Republican leaders, who include all three county commissioners and the entire legislative delegation.
"Government should be a useful tool in people's lives, not an intrusive one," Gullo said. "Government is necessary to accomplish what individuals can't accomplish on their own."
Gullo said his record shows that "you can expand the quality of life and lower taxes. You can foster land uses that benefit the community without infringing on personal property rights."
New Windsor's tax rate, the county's lowest, has dropped 5 cents -- to 40 cents -- in Gullo's tenure, and government is now a full-time operation. Town officials recently unanimously adopted a master plan for growth.
Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Manchester Republican, said he does not think the defection will affect the county but could affect Gullo's future.
"As a general rule of thumb, you never switch parties; you are viewed as a turncoat," said Getty.
Gullo could be eyeing a state appointment, he said.
"He is head of the MML and spending the year visiting towns," said Getty. "He is establishing a fresh, current network of contacts useful to the governor. My guess [is] he is looking for something on the state level, not a local office."
Donald R. Jansiewicz, a political science professor at Carroll Community College, said the attention from state officials bodes well for Gullo.
"This certainly shows support and attention right away," he said.
Party identification is not as critical as it used to be, Jansiewicz said.
"People vote for candidates, issues and images and not so much out of party loyalty," he said. "Switching is not a dangerous act."
State Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, a former assemblyman who for years was the only elected Democrat in Carroll's delegation, said changing parties is difficult but possible. Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr., a former senator, and Del. Donald Elliott both switched to the Republican Party before becoming active in politics.
"If you do it before you are involved in elections, it is easier," said Dixon.
Pub Date: 10/13/99