A GOP Maverick Prepares To Lead Anne Arundel

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006

While some candidates threw victory parties on election night and others gathered supporters for glum concession speeches, the man who would be county executive of Anne Arundel did neither. Instead, John R. Leopold spent the night sitting on his girlfriend's couch, watching the returns on TV with her and his cat.

Considered an outsider and loner -- even by some in his own Republican Party -- Leopold is poised to become the county's leader and the GOP's most prominent executive in Maryland. His election has caused many to wonder just who he is -- this man who has for decades campaigned on his own, this man who stood on road after road with a red wooden sign that reads simply, "Leopold," with no mention of party, position or even a first name.

"With the Republicans wiped out in the last election, he is suddenly the shining star," said Dan Nataf, a political scientist at Anne Arundel Community College. "But he's not closely linked to anyone, even in his own party. He's an enigma."

Leopold, 63, has served as a legislator -- first in Hawaii and now in Maryland -- for three decades. From his time in office, two opposing accounts have emerged.

Critics call him an opportunist, a lone wolf whose self-serving actions have turned colleagues against him.

The other view, held by many voters, portrays him as a master of constituent services. He is known for sending handwritten notes to residents after a death in the family, marriage or even promotion to Eagle Scout.

What's indisputable is the unending campaign that has consumed his life.

Year after year, election or not, he has knocked on doors across the county, accumulating votes with a handshake and a smile. He plants his own signs, answers his own phone and acts as his own campaign manager-spokesman.

There is almost no furniture in his blue-gray townhouse in Pasadena -- no signs of occupancy except for the big stacks of voter registration lists that cover every inch of surface space and decades of newspaper clippings piled high in the little office upstairs.

Leopold explains his spartan house this way: "Campaigning requires discipline. I don't have time to do much else."

Born and raised in a well-off Philadelphia family, he tried abstract painting before getting hooked on politics during a stint as research assistant for U.S. Sen. Hugh Scott (R-Pa.). At 24, interested in its Asian culture and determined to create a political career on his own, he flew to Hawaii.

His first year there, he won a state school board seat, a Republican in a state dominated by Democrats. Within 10 years, he would become the GOP's candidate for governor.

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