Jack A. Gullo Jr., the 31-year-old mayor of the small Carroll County town of New Windsor, announced yesterday that he is leaving the Republican Party to become a Democrat.
Officials of his new party hailed the switch as a major coup, while the state GOP termed it "inconsequential."
Whatever the case, state Democratic leaders all but rolled out a red carpet for Gullo as he became the only Democrat to hold elected office in staunchly conservative Carroll.
"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," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who presented Gullo with a commemorative certificate and Democratic Party cuff links. "He's a young, articulate, enthusiastic leader of the future."
Only 25 when he was first elected mayor in 1993, Gullo won a second term by a margin of 12 votes in 1997 and has been considered a likely candidate for higher office in the county.
As mayor of the town of about 1,200, he helped reduce New Windsor's property tax rate and turned the town government into a full-time operation.
Gullo also serves as president of the Maryland Municipal League, the nonpartisan association of the state's towns and cities.
In remarks at state Democratic Party headquarters in Annapolis, Gullo said he felt out of touch with the Republican Party's "obstructionist" tendencies.
"I've always considered myself to be a progressive conservative," said Gullo. "As far as the Republican Party goes, that's not quite conservative enough."
He said there was no particular issue that caused his unhappiness with the GOP. "It's a pattern both locally and nationally," he said. "I'd call it somewhat obstructionist."
Gullo gave few clues about his political plans, but said he hoped the largely Republican electorate of Carroll County would not hold his new party affiliation against him.
"The people who know me in Carroll County know what I'm all about," he said. "I hope it won't make a difference."
Paul Ellington, executive director of the state Republican Party, sharply criticized Gullo.
"He's an opportunist and he has no future in Carroll County now," Ellington said. "I guess they offered him a state job."
"It's a lot of crowing about what amounts to an inconsequential gain," Ellington added. "They can have him."
Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll County Republican, was surprised by the news.
"Jay 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," Haines said. "If he is teaming up with the governor, let's wait and see what comes down the road."
Joining Gullo for his announcement yesterday were Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a moderate Democrat from Cumberland who said he was pleased to hear Gullo's description of himself as a "progressive conservative."
"That's music to my ears," Taylor said. "We Democrats proudly have an enormously large tent that takes care of everybody."
Gullo's defection is an anomaly in a county that has grown increasingly hostile to Democrats. The party's few remaining elected officials were turned out of office last year.
Pub Date: 10/13/99