Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. made a promise two years ago en route to winning a seat on the Anne Arundel County Council: If voters elected him, he would give them "integrity, common sense, commitment."
He also pledged not to act "above the law," as he said his Republican opponent, Robert G. Pepersack Jr., had done. Pepersack had a rocky term as county sheriff from 1990 to 1994, overspending his budget and allegedly ordering illegal criminal checks of prospective tenants in rental properties he owned. No charges were filed against Pepersack.
One of Klosterman's 1998 campaign mailings put it this way: "Dan Klosterman wants to make government accountable to the people."
Last week, the picture of Klosterman as a practitioner of squeaky-clean government bore a smudge: The certified public accountant from Millersville acknowledged that he had violated county ethics law by trying to drum up county business for one of his accounting clients.
The Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission reprimanded him, ending a seven-month investigation. The 55-year-old Klosterman, a Democrat, faces no other punishment.
To his supporters, his admission came as a sad surprise. They attributed his ethical lapses to political inexperience. "Knowing Dan ... I certainly don't believe there was anything he intentionally did wrong," said state Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., a Glen Burnie Democrat.
To others, his repeated advocacy for a client raises troubling questions about Klosterman, who as council chairman serves as liaison to County Executive Janet S. Owens. "If he is willing to cast aside as insignificant the conflict in this matter, why wouldn't he do it in more serious matters that more directly affect voters?" said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a government watchdog group.
No one had a ready explanation why Klosterman would use his position to try to help TGMI Contractors Inc. of Cockeysville during a nine-month stretch last year.
"It seems out of character," said Daniel D. Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. "The guy seems like the ideal politician: He's smart, affable, approachable, so many pluses."
How Klosterman views the ethics issue is unclear. The councilman did not return several calls seeking comment. Approached Thursday at the Double T Diner on Ritchie Highway by a reporter, he refused to discuss the ethics case. "I'm busy," he said, resuming a breakfast meeting with J. Shepard Tullier, who is registered to lobby the council.
Some politicians are born raring to run for office. Not Klosterman, known to friends and associates as Danny. "He's sort of an anomaly because he was never interested in politics," said his lawyer and longtime friend, Michael F. Gilligan, a prominent Glen Burnie Democrat.
Not that Klosterman shied away from government or politics. In 1975, he began a six-year stint as assistant county auditor, working with the County Council to oversee the county administration.
During that time, he got to know Gilligan, then the council's attorney. Later, when Gilligan was elected to the council, Klosterman served as his campaign treasurer, gaining an entree into North County Democratic circles.
About 10 years ago, Klosterman suddenly expressed an itch to run for council. In 1990, Klosterman finished a distant fifth in a five-way primary field. Eight years later, he fared better, slipping past Pepersack with 53.8 percent of the vote and joining five other new arrivals on the seven-member council, all but one of them Democrats.
Aided by his auditing experience, Klosterman was elected chairman, a position he kept this year. That means he runs meetings in addition to working with Owens and the local State House delegation.
In two years, Klosterman has built a reputation as a hardworking councilman who does his homework on issues and is visible at neighborhood meetings. Behind the scenes, he has learned to work better with Owens after a contentious first year, joining forces to reel in more state money for education. He also has looked after community needs.
The ethics commission concluded that Klosterman helped TGMI in two ways. He sought, unsuccessfully, to get the company a contract to build hangars at Tipton Airport. He also grilled county officials about alleged late payments and other problems on a $14 million county jail addition TGMI is building.
It is not clear how this will affect Klosterman's political future. "If this is the only issue, it isn't enough for him to lose the election," said Nataf, who asked Klosterman to serve on his center's advisory board as previous council chairmen have done.
Klosterman's supporters hope he has learned a lesson. "If [something] is questionable, just don't do it," DeGrange said.
Although supporters might forgive and some voters might forget, his political opponents won't do either. Said David M. Schafer, who lost to Klosterman in the 1998 primary, "The people will have the opportunity in two years to make a decision on this again."