Firing the starter's pistol nearly two years before the election, former Councilman Douglas B. Riley became the first candidate yesterday to enter the race to succeed C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger as Baltimore County executive in 2002.
A Towson Republican who in 1998 kept his pledge to step down after two terms on the council, Riley, 47, said he wants an early start on raising funds, rebuilding his name recognition and seeking community input on issues.
His announcement launches what promises to be a wide-open race. Ruppersberger, a potential candidate for governor, is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.
In a not-so-subtle dig at the current administration, Riley said yesterday that he will run on a platform of open government, stricter ethics and attacking "the triple scourge of ugly development, sprawl and congestion."
Riley pointed to Ruppersberger's push for Senate Bill 509 -- the contentious economic development plan that would have granted the county broad condemnation power -- and plan to expand the county detention center as major decisions made without public input.
"At this point in time, the people of Baltimore County want open government," Riley said. "The present leadership has been around for a long time and is short on new ideas."
Riley plans to make a formal announcement at a March 16 fund-raiser, which is expected to add about $30,000 to the $20,000 he has in his campaign account.
That's a fraction of the $600,000 to $1 million that he predicts will be needed for a successful race. He is interviewing professional fund-raisers who could help him collect the cash needed for television and radio advertisements and direct-mail brochures.
He concedes that, as a Republican, he faces an uphill battle in a county where 254,172 voters are registered as Democrats and 113,757 as Republicans. Only two Republicans have been elected county executive in the past four decades: Roger B. Hayden in 1990 and Spiro T. Agnew in 1962.
As a student of public policy who professes a fondness for the processes of government, Riley said he expects to set the agenda in the campaign. "These Democrats are going to take my ideas, and in the end they are going to be implemented," he said.
A Massachusetts native, Riley graduated from Bowdoin College and Tulane University School of Law. He is a commercial litigator with Rosenberg Proutt Funk & Greenberg in Baltimore. He and his wife, Eileen, also a lawyer, have three children.
While the field Riley will run against has yet to form, he has contacted several potential rivals to learn if they would challenge him.
Del. James F. Ports Jr. of Perry Hall, Ruppersberger's S.B. 509 debate opponent, said yesterday that he is forming an exploratory committee and will likely not make a decision before November. "I'm keeping all my options open," Ports said. "I told him if I decided not to get in, I would certainly support him."
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey said she would not enter the race, saying running the county government "is not something I have any great desire to do."
"I think Doug was a good councilman," said Sauerbrey, a resident of Fork. "His challenge coming into this race is that he was out of the public eye. He has to get around the county and build alliances."
Potential Democratic candidates include Councilmen Joseph Bartenfelder, Kevin B. Kamenetz and Stephen G. Sam Moxley; state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell; and Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr.