New party, same old story with Giannetti

The Baltimore Sun

John A. Giannetti Jr. faced his first defining moment as a Republican at a Wawa in Prince George's County last week.

The state senator had been through a whiplashing, whirlwind several days in which, having decisively lost in the Democratic primary, he decided to switch sides and run as a Republican against the guy who beat him.

He applied to switch his party registration Tuesday, and went the next day to the P.G. County Board of Elections to make sure it was approved. It was, and he headed to the Wawa to get a drink.

"I'm a Republican now," he remembers thinking. "What would a Republican drink?"

That stymied him, so he went with something more specific: "What," he thought, "would Bob Ehrlich drink?"

Now there's a touchstone Giannetti can turn to during any uncertain times in his new life: WWBED?

Hopefully it's something strong and analgesic, since in the coming weeks he'll continue hearing that he's a sore loser, a turncoat and an opportunist for switching parties in an attempt to get re-elected.

What a year this is shaping up to be for dumping party affiliations, or not wanting to make too big a deal of the one you have. First there was Maryland lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate hopeful Michael Steele's off-but-eventually-on-the-record comment that the "R" had become a scarlet letter for Republican candidates like him. Even after making nice with his party - and his president - Steele's ads currently are more about puppies than political affiliation. Then there was U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who, after his defeat in the Democratic primary in Connecticut, filed to run as an independent to keep his seat.

And now Giannetti, the Maryland state senator who is seeking a second term representing a district that includes parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. Last week, the irrepressible, never camera-shy Giannetti managed to snatch publicity from the jaws of defeat by refusing to go away despite his loss to former Del. James C. Rosapepe, who won 58 percent of the vote to the incumbent's 39 percent.

Poor Rosapepe - Giannetti must seem like that bad penny that's always turning up. Back in February, Rosapepe choked on a bite of his seafood pasta at an Annapolis restaurant, when who should just happen to be there to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Yes, Giannetti, who would go on to use the incident in a campaign flier complaining about Rosapepe's alleged mudslinging. "I saved his life, and this is the thanks I get!" the flier bemoaned.

The 21st District leans Democratic, so running as a Republican - after being defeated in the majority party's primary - doesn't seem like such a bright political strategy on Giannetti's part. But he has surprised in the past - he joined the General Assembly as a delegate in 1999, having beaten a 37-year veteran lawmaker with an aggressive campaign.

The party switch isn't out of character: In April, when the General Assembly approved a one-year moratorium on the state's plan to take over 11 failing Baltimore City schools, Giannetti had told Mayor Martin O'Malley, who was pushing for the delay, that he had his vote. Minutes later, though, he voted with the Republicans.

In the past, he's also gone with Ehrlich and against the Democrats on a bill that would have enacted a state ban to replace the expiring federal ban on assault weapons. He also switched sides on a constitutional amendment to increase the General Assembly's budget powers, among the moves that led a fellow legislator to dub him "Senator Weathervane."

Still, "Senator Weathervane," sore loser, turncoat, opportunist - these are hardly words to shame a guy who appears shame-proof.

A couple of years ago, he sent out a press release titled "Senator and Mrs. Giannetti Return from Honeymoon Rested," filled with details about their wedding and honeymoon, the carat size and metal makeup of their rings (hers: platinum; his: titanium) and, best of all, the fact that the Greek islanders enjoyed the Missus' bikinis much more than her hubby's black Speedo.

No press release, though, was forthcoming in August of the following year, when Erin Giannetti pleaded guilty to driving while impaired after celebrating her law school graduation. She had refused to take a Breathalyzer test on the advice of her husband, who previously had sponsored anti-drunken driving legislation - and had drawn criticism for the tailgate parties he hosted at University of Maryland games, where alcohol was available to underage drinkers.

But maybe Giannetti has learned his lesson on that front. When confronted with a cooler full of drinks at the Wawa after he officially became a Republican, and asking himself, "WWBED?" he decided: a Diet Mountain Dew.

A column by Jean Marbella in Monday's editions incorrectly stated when Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. defeated a 37-year veteran of the Maryland General Assembly. That election occurred in 2002, when Giannetti beat former Sen. Arthur Dorman in the Democratic primary.The Sun regrets the error.
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