For an office that is supposed to be free of partisan politics, the Baltimore Board of Elections is embroiled in fierce party bickering over the selection of a new director who is an old and central player in state and city races.
In an executive-session vote made public yesterday, the city's three-member elections board, which is appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., unanimously chose Gene M. Raynor to head an office that oversees all aspects of voting in Baltimore.
The choice of Raynor, a Democrat and friend of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, might seem odd for a Republican-appointed board, especially because two African-Americans who are Republicans sought the job. But Raynor supported Ehrlich in the 2002 election and, like Schaefer, has been a critic of Mayor Martin O'Malley, a candidate for governor in this year's election.
Democrats and O'Malley supporters fear that Raynor's management of the office might favor Ehrlich or Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is challenging the mayor in the Democratic primary.
Raynor dismissed such worries yesterday.
"I will not be active in partisan politics," said Raynor, 70. "I know everyone in politics, but I have a job to do. If I got the job, I have to shut up" about candidates.
He said he has not been formally notified of the appointment, but that he believes it is delayed by the processing of paperwork at the Maryland Board of Elections, whose administrator, Linda H. Lamone, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
In 2004, Ehrlich appointed Raynor to the state Board of Elections as part of a strategy to oust Lamone, a holdover from the administration of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The effort failed, and Raynor resigned from the board last January and -- at the suggestion of local board members -- applied for the city job that had just been vacated by Barbara E. Jackson.
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said the governor did not nominate Raynor for the city job and has no say in local appointments.
"This isn't something we can take the credit or blame for," DeLeaver said. "The Baltimore Board of Elections thought that Mr. Raynor was the most qualified candidate."
Raynor served as the city's elections administrator from 1979 to 1987 and had worked in the office since 1958. He left to become state elections chief when Schaefer was elected governor, retiring in 1997.
In addition to worrying Democrats and O'Malley supporters, the appointment provided another odd political twist because two African-American Republicans who work for the city elections board -- acting Director Cornelius L. Jones and Board President Armstead B.C. Jones -- were passed over for the job.
Armstead Jones did not vote in the Nov. 30 session because he was a candidate. An alternate board member joined two others to appoint Raynor, according to Cornelius Jones.
"I wrote the governor and asked for his support, and his appointments secretary said the governor doesn't get involved in that," said Cornelius Jones, a 27-year employee of the office who once worked for Raynor. "I had to laugh at that."
Others did not find the Raynor appointment so funny.
"It really looks like that [a political ploy]," said state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, who said he has nothing against Raynor. "The surprising thing about that process is that the chairman of the board, an African-American Republican, was interested in that job. He was passed over. That causes consternation."
City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young and McFadden said they worried that Raynor may not have the skills necessary to modernize the city office with computerized voting machines.
"All of this is pure politics," Young said. "It's a slap in the face to those who are there in an acting capacity."
Raynor said that as director he would ensure the implementation of new machines. "It's really not that complicated," he said.
Maryland Republicans have not always been so fond of Raynor. In the 1994 gubernatorial election, Raynor led ballot counting in the tight race between Democrat Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who eventually lost. At the time, allegations arose, according to The Sun, that Raynor employed a friend on the state payroll for what many called a no-show job -- prompting Sauerbrey to call for his resignation.
In 1990, Raynor also led the recount of a close race for state Senate between Sen. John A. Pica Jr. and O'Malley, a first-time candidate. Pica, a Raynor friend, won by 44 votes.
Cornelius Jones said he was not surprised that Raynor got the job considering he helped Ehrlich's campaign. He said he is not looking forward to working with Raynor.
"I'm not going to participate in his foolishness ... if he brings people in who don't do work," Jones said. "That way is dead and stinking."
Raynor said he was never formally accused of doing anything wrong and that if he had, he would have been indicted. He said he was also instrumental in counting the votes that led his friend Mary Adams to lose a City Council seat to Kweisi Mfume in 1979. He also led a recount that delivered David R. Blumberg, a prominent city Republican, a victory over another Raynor friend who at first appeared to have won.
State Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, said Raynor's only loyalty in the job will be to impartiality.
"I don't know of anyone that's better qualified," Della said. "The guy knows what he's doing."