Rosapepe trounces Giannetti

The Baltimore Sun

Freshman state Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. was never a conventional state lawmaker.

He passed out free beer to University of Maryland students outside football games, once sent out a news release about his honeymoon -- describing his Speedo and his bride's bikini -- and broke into song on the Senate floor.

But some of his Democratic colleagues didn't chuckle when he sided with the Republican governor on slot machines, an assault rifle ban and a takeover of Baltimore schools.

Many in the party abandoned him, and on Tuesday, so did voters. Giannetti was trounced in the District 21 primary by former delegate and Ambassador to Romania James C. Rosapepe, a well-funded challenger who had the blessing of other politicos.

His defeat, say friends, foes and observers, shows what can happen to a novice who strays too far from the party line.

"The comments we got at the polls were: 'It is time for a change. John doesn't reflect the district,'" said Del. Barbara A. Frush, one of the two incumbent delegates from his district who endorsed his opponent.

According to unofficial totals, Giannetti received 39 percent of the vote in the district, which straddles western Anne Arundel County but is mostly in Prince George's County. Rosapepe took 58 percent. A third candidate, Jessie Pulivarti, trailed.

Giannetti and Ida G. Ruben, a Montgomery County Democrat who served for 30 years in General Assembly, were the only incumbent senators who were booted on Tuesday. Ten incumbent delegates lost their seats.

Giannetti did not answer calls or e-mails yesterday. A message on his cell phone said he would be unreachable for "a few days."

In a statement posted yesterday on his Web site, Giannetti hinted that the tone of the campaign led to his defeat: "The unfortunate moral for the story yesterday is that 'Negative Campaigning Works' in our area."

Giannetti also lobbed that accusation in the final days of the campaign. He sent out a glossy mailer with a picture of himself splattered with mud and a description of how he used the Heimlich maneuver to save Rosapepe, who was choking at an Annapolis restaurant.

In the mailer, Giannetti complains: "I saved his life and this is the thanks I get."

Rosapepe didn't agree that the campaign was nasty. He said his rival's record was out of touch with the district:

"The election was about the kind of representation the people want. It was not about my pretty face. They want a mainstream Democrat who will stand up for working families."

Giannetti, 42, was not mainstream. Gregarious and outgoing, he was first elected a Howard County delegate in 1992 and squeaked into his current job in 2002 after ousting a Democratic incumbent who had been in office for 37 years.

Known for his energy and creativity, Giannetti as a freshman passed dozens of bills, including legislation to make it a felony to assault a police officer.

Two years ago, Giannetti raised eyebrows for playing host to football tailgate parties at his alma mater, where he served free beer to the students without checking IDs.

He also got a scolding when he sponsored a bill to undo a local zoning decision that limited local control over some cell phone towers. It would have directly benefited a client at his law firm. He withdrew the bill.

He voted with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to have the state take over some Baltimore schools and on legalizing slot machines. He cast the decisive vote against a bill to create a state ban on assault weapons.

In a 2004 interview with The Sun, he said: "I'm a very independent and strong-willed person, and I'm not afraid to take controversial stands. This rubs some people the wrong way."

Giannetti further earned the ire of many when he hinted that he might trade his vote on a county school board issue if House Speaker Michael E. Busch would compromise on a slots bill.

"Primary voters' ideological purity is what did him [Giannetti] in," said Dan Nataf, head of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. "If given a choice, and if that choice is marketed well, Democratic primary votes will lean to the left."

Rosapepe had $200,000 to market himself as a more Democratic alternative to Giannetti and ran as part of a slate with the two incumbent delegates.

Giannetti recruited his own slate of Democrats to run against the incumbents. None of them won, either.

But state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno said Giannetti won't be gone for long: "He was a participant, he was a player. I'm sure he'll be back; he loves politics."

An article yesterday incorrectly described state Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr.'s role at tailgate parties he held before Maryland Terrapins home football games in 2004. While alcohol was available at the parties that students attended on campus parking lots, Giannetti said, he did not personally pass out beers. Giannetti also said that he recited, not sang, the lyrics of the Terrapins' fight song in the state Senate chamber.THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR
Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad