J. Robert Hooper, a high-fiving state senator who has served since 1999, announced yesterday that he will resign, citing health problems that have rendered him unable to endure the demands of the statehouse.
The 71-year-old Republican from Street has battled colon cancer for the past few years and suffered a mild heart attack in December. Participating in the special session of the legislature the past two weeks convinced him that he cannot keep up with the demands of the office, he said. His resignation takes effect Dec. 31.
"It would be unjust to the people of the 35th District to expect less than a 100 percent effort from their representative," he said at news conference in Bel Air. "This I can no longer give."
The county Republican Central Committee will soon begin interviewing prospective candidates and expects to recommend a successor to the governor before the 2008 session opens in January, said Michael A. Geppi Sr., committee chairman.
Hooper, whose district includes northern Harford County and much of Bel Air, recommended that Del. Barry Glassman be appointed to the seat.
"I understand that the selection of my successor is a decision to made by others," he said. But he added that Glassman, a Republican who represents District 35A, could provide "a seamless transition for our shared constituents."
Hooper called Glassman, a former County Council member who is chairman of the county's statehouse delegation, on the floor of the House of Delegates on Tuesday to give him the news.
Surrounded by family, supporters and officials, Hooper read his letter of resignation during the gathering yesterday at the Harford County Circuit Courthouse. Copies of the letter were hand-delivered yesterday to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"This is the hardest thing I am going to do, but I really don't believe in backing away from anything," he said. "My declining health and the rigors of this special session have demonstrated to me that it would be difficult to maintain my position during the coming regular session of 2008."
Hooper, who served eight years on the County Council, won his third term in the Senate last fall. He is known for doling out high-fives to staff members and other legislators in the halls of the statehouse.
Hooper has shown staying power. After being elected twice as a Democrat to the County Council, he was ousted by voters in 1990 amid a furor over a landfill. He resurfaced in 1998 as a Republican and won the Senate seat held by William H. Amoss, who died in 1997.
"I always tell people to look at who is representing them, not look at the R's and D's," Hooper said. "Learn to know something about that person."
To compensate for the effects of his illness, Hooper relinquished his duties on the finance committee for the 2007 session and took a seat on the education, health and environment committee.
"He is a genuine gentleman who lives the life he preaches," said Sen. David R. Brinkley, minority leader.
Hooper used his news conference yesterday to rail against slots and closed-door meetings held by legislators.
"People need to know what we are doing," Hooper said. "What people are afraid of is what they don't know."
Hooper planned to return to Annapolis today and continue to help forge a solution to the state budget crisis.
"He is a class act who never wanted things for himself, only for the people of his district," Harford County Executive David R. Craig said yesterday.