Is Leggett Just Too Likable?

Leggett talks with Bob Resnik and Lou Schap during a neighborhood campaign get-together in Bethesda.
Leggett talks with Bob Resnik and Lou Schap during a neighborhood campaign get-together in Bethesda. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2006

This is one of a series of articles profiling candidates for Montgomery county executive.

Fearful that a student rights rally at Southern University was going to explode in the spring of 1967, some students descended on the Baton Rouge, La., hospital where Isiah Leggett was recovering from surgery for a burst appendix.

We're getting you out of here, they said. You have to help calm things down.

Leggett was not just the student body president. He was also respected by the administration. And so before the nurses could stop the students, they pushed his wheelchair out the front door.

Within a few hours, Leggett and college administrators were negotiating a settlement of student complaints about living conditions. The administrators were "rather pleased that he was able to come back to bring that stabilizing force to the students," remembered Franklin D. Jones, then a junior.

Now, nearly 40 years later, Leggett, 61, known as "Ike," still enjoys a reputation as a stabilizing force as he runs for Montgomery county executive. Throughout his public career, which includes 16 years on the County Council and two as Maryland Democratic Party chairman, Leggett has become known as a low-key conciliator, a diplomat-cum-politician.

In the process, Leggett, who has a smooth voice, heavy eyelids and moustache, has become something of a rarity: a politician with few enemies.

Even his Democratic primary opponent, council member Steven A. Silverman (At Large), talks about how much he admires and respects Leggett, and his campaign has distributed bumper stickers that say, "I like Ike, but I'm voting for Steve!"

"It's true that everyone likes Ike," said Gail Ewing, a former Democratic council member, who is staying neutral in the race. "He is the statesman."

But he does have critics who suggest that a politician without enemies is as questionable as a skinny chef. Although his supporters see him as a gracious consensus builder, his opponents see a flip-flopper who lacks the decisiveness to be a top executive, a position in which it's impossible to please everyone.

"There are some people who are better at walking the middle line and some who want to take a stance and make a difference," said Cheryl C. Kagan, a former state delegate supporting Silverman. "Ike has been the master of walking the line and being a consensus builder but not necessarily taking the tough stance on controversial issues."

Leggett has been accused of ducking a vote on the intercounty connector, the fiercely contested highway project that would connect Interstate 270 in Montgomery County to Interstate 95 in Prince George's County. In 1997, he recused himself from voting on the proposed roadway while on the council because he owns property along the right of way. Critics also accuse Leggett of changing his stance on the also contentious Purple Line debate. He supports it, but he voted against a precursor called the Georgetown Branch Trolley.

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