Is it the $10,000 in police overtime? That was the county taxpayers’ bill so Leopold’s personal security detail could stand watch at a hospital to prevent his live-in girlfriend from meeting his other girlfriend, a county government subordinate.
Or how about the allegation that Leopold (R) required the police officers to empty his urine bag when he was using a catheter because of back surgery? (Yuck.)
The charges, brought by a state grand jury Friday, certainly represent the most serious threat yet to Leopold’s long political career. But he’s survived disagreeable controversies before, and the voters have repeatedly passed judgment in his favor.
This is the guy, remember, who easily won reelection in 2010 — a year after police found him in the back seat of his Chevrolet Impala following a 911 call reporting two naked people having sex in a car. It was parked near the Nordstrom store in busy Westfield Annapolis Shopping Mall.
The voters also weren’t moved by a complaint against Leopold from female county employees alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. One former aide said that Leopold asked her to track down attractive women he had met at community and political gatherings and ask them to meet with him.
“The voters were well aware of those allegations but reelected me handily,” Leopold said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Some said it’s not true. Others said it may be true, but he’s done a great job and we’re going to reelect him anyway.”
Leopold, 69, has remained popular partly by holding down property and income taxes. He also has shown painstaking devotion to constituent services — fixing roads, reducing neighborhood noise and adding streetlights.
Leopold also was lucky to face weak and divided opposition when he ran for reelection in 2010. The Democrats nominated a relatively inexperienced candidate, whose support was diluted by defectors to a Green Party candidate.
“The electorate of Anne Arundel County is tossed with indecision. They don’t mind the way he’s governed. They wish he were more solid personally, and didn’t have the patina of impropriety,” said Dan Nataf, director of the Center of the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College.
Others say that if President Clinton didn’t have to resign after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, then Leopold can survive this.
“There’s a whole new set of rules since Clinton. You can get away with stuff that would have buried you before,” said former county executive O. James Lighthizer.
Nevertheless, there are three major reasons why this scandal could mean much more trouble for Leopold than anything he’s faced in the past.
First, he hasn’t been charged with crimes before. He faces one count of fraudulent misappropriation, a misdemeanor that carries a jail term of one to five years, and four counts of official misconduct.
The Nordstrom parking lot incident didn’t lead to charges. The female employees filed a civil complaint, not criminal ones. (It’s still tied up in court.)
Second, it seems clear from the indictment that the accusations come from one or more of the police officers assigned to his security detail. The grand jury heard testimony from at least three officers a year ago. Police officers can be pretty sympathetic witnesses, especially when they’ve been asked by politicians to do tawdry personal tasks.
The Fraternal Order of Police has weighed in on the side of the officers. On Monday, it publicly called on Leopold and Police Chief James Teare to resign. It accused Teare of failing to support his officers when they complained to him about Leopold’s behavior.
Finally, and perhaps most important, the charges focus less on sexual misbehavior and more on inappropriate use of police officers. The public is more likely to be unhappy about misspending public resources than personal immorality.
That concern, on top of past ones, could be enough to finally spoil Leopold’s standing with the voters.
“There’s a narrative that he’s got personal judgment issues,” Nataf said. “There’s smoke there, and you’ve got to wonder if there’s fire.”
McCartney discusses local issues at 8:51 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM). To read his previous columns, go to www.washingtonpost.com/