Gene Michael Raynor, a retired top city and state election administrator recalled as an old-fashioned political strategist, died of heart disease Saturday at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 80.
"It's hard to imagine an election in Baltimore without Gene Raynor," said Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. "From the time he was a young man working as a clerk to being chief of Maryland's election board, Gene was a fixture and a font of information on all things Maryland elections.
"His annual New Year's Day party was must-attend for any Baltimore politician, would-be politician or has-been politician," said Ms. Mikulski, a Democrat. "He knew how to organize and strategize, but never antagonized."
"He was a walking encyclopedia of Baltimore election lore," said Paul Oliver, owner of Dalesio's of Little Italy restaurant, where Mr. Raynor was a former partner.
"With his glasses on the top of his head, he would study the precinct maps. He was a numbers guy," said Mr. Oliver. "His predictions would generally be accurate. Reporters would flock to him.
"Gene didn't play golf," he said. "Politics was his game."
Born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown, he was the son of Harry Raynor, a Social Security Administration executive, and his wife, Pauline.
He was a 1953 graduate of Patterson Park High School and earned a degree at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
While in his 20s, he was president of the Blue Crest Young Men's Democratic Club. A 1983 Evening Sun profile said Mr. Raynor grew up in a world of white marble steps, painted screens and "high voter turnout."
In 1958 he was a law clerk to attorney Carmine J. Granese, whose family lived in Little Italy. Mr. Raynor soon became like a second son to then-state Sen. Joseph Bertorelli, for whom he campaigned. The pair remained close allies until Mr. Bertorelli's death in 1976.
Mr. Raynor also became a close associate of former Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III.
When he was 18, Mr. Raynor received a part-time job as an elections clerk at the Baltimore City Board of Elections Supervisors. In 1970 he was named deputy city elections administrator under Frank J. "Bud" McQuade.
After Mr. McQuade's death in 1979, Mr. Raynor took the top city post.
The 1983 Evening Sun article said Mr. Raynor "observed politics, played with statistics and kept a well schooled eye on political situations."
Mr. Raynor was an ally of William Donald Schaefer, who served as Baltimore mayor, then governor, then state comptroller. Mr. Raynor helped raise campaign funds for him, and after Mr. Schaefer was elected governor, he named Mr. Raynor to head the State Administrative Board of Election Laws.
"Gene was one of Baltimore's all-time characters, lifted right out of a political novel," said former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who also became a friend. "He was close to William Donald Schaefer, but they fought like brothers. They complained about each other all the time.
"Schaefer had a great deal of respect for his knowledge and acumen," said Mr. Ehrlich. "Gene knew city politics better than anyone I ever met."
"Nobody knew the election laws like Gene did," said state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, the Democratic nominee for mayor. "He was a wonderful guy."
Mr. Raynor retired from the state post in 1997.
The city's election board named him its chief in early 2006. He returned to his old post and held it for less than a year when he resigned after a partisan squabble following that year's primary election.
In that primary, Mr. Schaefer was running for comptroller in what would be his final campaign. Mr. Raynor realized his friend was in trouble. He received early, unofficial counts regarding Mr. Schaefer's performance at three key polling places — Little Italy, Canton and Highlandtown — and called political allies to warn them his old friend's political career had ended.
American Joe Miedusiewski, a former Maryland state senator and a Democrat, recalled once asking Mr. Raynor about close elections that resulted in recounts. "He told me, 'Joe, if they don't have it [the votes] they don't get it.'"
At the time of his retirement in 2006, The Baltimore Sun said: "Raynor's answering machine at his home in Baltimore's Little Italy neighborhood has long offered a simple greeting: 'Not in. Leave message.' No frills, straight forward, to the point. That's Raynor — Baltimore's elections director and a fixture on the city and state election scene."
The story described him as a "short, stocky man whose penchant for casual dress makes him seem more like the head of a bowling league than an elections office."
"He was loyal to the people he loved," said former state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Democrat. "He had an institutional memory and had great political instincts. I never knew him to pick a loser. He knew people by their ward and precinct."
Mr. Raynor had other interests. In the late 1970s he bought the Waterfront Hotel, a bar and restaurant in Fells Point that became a gathering place for his legion of friends. Mr. Raynor often dined there with Mr. Schaefer and the governor's friend, Hilda Mae Snoops.
He was also a partner at Dalesio's of Little Italy, but had relinquished his role there in recent years. For a short time he managed The Crease in Towson.
At Mr. Raynor's request, funeral services were private.
Survivors include a sister, Marie Rodgers, and a niece, Trudine N. Callinan, both of Baltimore.