In Montgomery, Ready to Serve
Sunday, October 29, 2006
You watch a man weather a rained-on parade in Burtonsville, face down a roomful of lawyers in Rockville, bear up in front of a first-year torts class at Howard University Law School, and bury his head in his hands at a senior citizens center in Wheaton, but you don't really get to know Isiah "Ike" Leggett until he sneaks up and beats you in tennis on a clay court in Silver Spring.
You had him! Four games to one and you were feeling for him and wondering how you were going to handle victory over the man who is Most Likely to Be Next Executive of Montgomery County. The sixth game was a marathon, back and forth, deuce-add, deuce-add, eight or 10 times.
He finally won it. Then he broke your serve, held his and snatched two more games -- playing unerring, disciplined, no-flash tennis -- to take the set. And you had him!
The guy had a quadruple bypass in the early 1990s, for crying out loud. But at 61 he's in good shape. On this early Monday morning he's in a gray T-shirt, blue shorts and a cap to block the sun. Gathered sweat glistens in his mustache. He's compactly built. He moves deliberately, on and off the court. He's mannerly, measured.
Critics have called him out for being too mannerly, too much of a nice guy. And for being too measured, and hamstrung by indecisiveness.
And yet, he doesn't get distracted. He just plays his game. He takes this opportunity to give you a poli-sci lesson. Shifting into professorial mode, he says, "That set was symbolic of my campaign."
He's referring to his sound drubbing of council member Steve Silverman in last month's Democratic primary. Silverman raised a lot more money and had high-profile endorsements from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, the county's Realtors and other influential groups and individuals.
"People around me went into a panic," Leggett says. "But I was very focused."
He kept his eye on the ball. He didn't make mistakes. He knew that the winner of the primary in the lopsidedly Democratic county is virtually assured of triumph in the Nov. 7 general election. When the primary votes were counted, Leggett got 61 percent of the vote.
"People sometimes underestimate me," he says.
Game, set, match.
The Verdict: A Nice Guy
Despite the damp dreariness of a Saturday morning in early October, a bunch of stalwarts have turned out for the annual Burtonsville Day celebration. The pre-parade parking lot looks like the backstage of a dream. A woman floats by on stilts. Older people in green T-shirts walk dogs with matching green kerchiefs. Marching bands tune up. Kids scurry about.