"I remember a few years ago during the Sarbanes campaign," said state Sen. Charles Gilchrist, recounting an episode from the time when he was treasurer for the campaign that Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) was running. "You know, that was a pretty grim campaign at the beginning. We were going to have a rally in front of the American Legion building in Rockville. We put out hundreds of flyers. Nobody came."
Gilchrist looked around his front yard at the people chatting outside in the cold, sunny air at 10 a.m. last Saturday morning.
"I'm glad there's some people here," he said.
Within the next 20 minutes, more than 140 people would wander into what Gilchrist billed as his oldfashioned front porch rally to hear him officially announce his candidacy for Montgomery County Executive and then walk with him to the county election supervisor's office to sign the necessary papers and pay the $25 fee.
And people like Montgomery County State's Attorney Andy Sonner, black activist Lowell Jackson, and Golchrist's campaign manager, Jim McAuliffe, would all say he could win.
"I guess we feel we've over-legislated and under-implemented," said Gilchrist, a tax lawyer and Maryland state senator from district 17 in Rockville, about the state legislature. "I think I can be more effective in local government. The county government has been a rudderless ship."
While onlookers stood bundled in coats, gloves, and boots, Charlie Gilchrist greeted them all, wearings a sweater vest under his wool suitcoat. His wife, Phoebe Gilchrist, demurred when friends insisted she must be cold with only a cardigan sweater on over her turtleneck and skirt.
"I think he has excellent chance," commented Frank Shore, a state delegate from the 17th district who plans to run for the senate seat that Gilchrist is giving up. "He listens to both sides and he has a way of not becoming abrasive, of not becoming argumentative.I don't think I've ever heard an ill word about him."
Commented another friend and observer, "He's . . . uh . . . low-key."
"Yes, he is low-key," said Paul McGuckian, general counsel to the Montgomery County state delegates, "meaning quietly going about doing his job and not blowing his horn. Ultimately, I think that's what's going to make him win."
Gilchrist knows how he state legislature works, said Shore. And that's what people have never had in a county executive, he said. Gilchrist once to got Gil Gude, who was then the Republican congressional representative from the Rockville, area, to come out and look at thow badly the traffic-choked West Montgomery Ave. in Rockville, which leads into I-270, needed a traffic interchange, Shore said. Gilchrist got the law against drinking in public passed, much to the comfort of the distressed shopowners, said McGuckian.
And he's not James P. Gleason, the current County Executive, who had managed to irk some of the supporters who stood in Gilchrist's front yard.
"People in Rockville aren't happy with a lot of the decisions (Gleason) has made concerning us," said Rockville resident Tom Lawrey, who once managed Gilchrist's opponent's campaign for the senate three years ago. "We don't like how he's pussyfooted on the trash issue."
Montgomery County had promised Rockville a little over three years ago that the current Gude-Southlawn garbage landfill in Rockville would only be operating for three years. Its replacement still has not been selected.
Gilchrist, who graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1958 and from Harvard Law School in 1961, has been involved in Democratic party politics in the form of one committee or another for the past eight years. He's been state senator since 1974, when he ran against Tom Anderson, a long-time Rockville resident and state senator.
"Nobody gave Charlie much of a chance, but he did it," said McGuckian. "He did it with a wide grass-roots campaign. And I think that's how he'll do it this time."