Within hours of the announcement by Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason that he would not seek re-election, Republicans and Democrats began the search for candidates to succeed him.
After eight years with a Republican in the county executives's office, the Montgomery GOP found itself called on unexpectedly to fill the nomination that Republicans had expected would go once again to Gleason. For the Democrats, Gleason's departure appeared likely to inspire so many candidates to join the race, that party leaders were worrying about a divisive party struggle for the nomination which might hurt on election day.
"The Republican Party like the Democratic Party will start to breed county executive candidates now," said Republican State Sen. Howard A. Denis of Montgomery County. "The time is short - we have no strong candidates. No one has taken the time to build up their organizations or to court the precinct leaders. So there will be a scramble."
Republicans, discussing Gleason's decision, acknowledgeld that it could be a difficult task to find someone who could match his name and popular appeal. "We have to work harder for the non-incumbent," said Forbes Player, the regional Republican committee chairman for the Colesville area.
"It's a severe blow. We have a tougher fight than we have had before," said Rep. Newton I. Steers (R-Md.).
"Having Gleason as the head man is very comfortable to other candidates," said Aris T. Allen, an Annapolic physician who is head of the Maryland State Republican Party. "He's a popular vote getter."
Gleason, in his press conference, insisted that he had never made a decision in office based on political feelings. He said he did what he believed was good for the people of the county. Some in the Republican Party viewed his non-partisan stance as an asset which must be duplicated by any other Republican who wants to have a good shot at Gleason's office.
"It bothers me less that a candidate doesn't appeal to the central committee than that he doesn't appeal to people," said Allen. "We want party line people but we're outnumbered three to one (by Democrats) throughout the state. We must have enlightened Democrats who vote for us. You have to have a candidate who appeals to people. People will react to candidates, not to parties."
Steers echoed his words. "In this county, it's absolutely essential to appeal to conservatively Democrats and a good percentage of Democratic liberals and a huge preponderance of Republicans," he said. Steers added, "It would be helpful to have (attractive) names." He sketched in the air the ballot that voters will see in November. "The Democratic line is on top (because we have a Democratic governor)," he said. "You've got to get them to look down and check the ballot."
"It's a situation where everyoen is tentative," explained Joseph Kenary, the chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central COmmittee. "People really reassess what their plans are. There are people who were going to run for something who may decide to run for county executive . . . People are going to start talking . . .
"It would have to start to jell in the next six weeks. By that time, people will be lining up their . . . organization - the people who are going to work for you, like your finance manager."
Until then, the names will drift in and out of telephone conversations and luncheon clubs.
"The first natural one we're going to try to persuade is Gilbert Guide," said one Republican of the former Montgomery County congressman who retired in 1976. "He was a congressman for eight years. He would be the strongest candidate for county executive besides Gleason. He's still Mr. Republican - he's an unbeatable guy."
"We've been going around to various Republican clubs and asking people to get in touch with us if they are interested in running or know someone who would be interested," said John Whitney, the chairman of Republican Party's candidate recruitment committee in Montgomery County. Whitney said his committee, charged with finding candidates for all county and state elective offices, has been working for about a year, trying to get candidates and to develop a platform before the July 3 filing date.
Democrats said they were anticipating a rush of candidates for Gleason's office.
"Those on the fence will jump in, now that Gleason has retired," said Jim Doherty, chairman of the Democratic Central Committee in Montgomery County. "There was a logical thought that if a person could win for two terms he could win a third." But the multiple decisions to take a chance at the office now "could be disastrous if they all stay in until the primary," Doherty said. "We'll have these camp wars where we'll lose the general."
The Democratic Party in Montgomery County, known for factions and personal animosity, according to Doherty, is not good at coalescing after primary battles. Montgomery County State Sen. Charles Gilchrist, the only Democrat who has filed for county executive, issued a statement from Annapolis after Gleason's announcement asking Democrats to proceed with caution toward the county executive race.
"I am concerned that Democrats, who weren't interested in running for county executive before, might now scramble into the race," Gilchrist said. "That could lead to a repeat of the 1976 congressional race, when Gilbert Gude retired. There were so many Democrats fighting for the office in that primary, that the eventual winner lost to a Republican in the general election."
But at least one Democrat who has said he plans to run for county executive said he thought Gleason's decision would have no effect on the Democratic Party's race. "The first consideration is whether you can win the primary," said Royce Hanson, the head of the Maryland National Capitol Park and Planning Commission.
"I don't see how Gleason's leaving the race changes that. I would hope to run about the same race in any event," Hanson said. "If the Republicans nominate a right wing nonagenarian with a speech impediment, that's terrific, but if they nominate a good candidate, it comes down to capabilities."
"I really don't think there will be a significant impact," said Dick Schifter, a former Democratic Central COmmittee chairman, noting that there are at least six Democrats who had expressed serious interest in running for county executive before Gleason gave away his plans. "There were enough of them in there who had decided to take Gleason on anyway."
Republicans mentioned as possible candidates include: John R. Perrin, chairman of the Men's Republican Club in Montgomery County; Cleatus E. Barnett, Montgomery County director of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and a former council member; Richmond Max Keeney, a Maryland National Capitol Park and Planning Commissioner and former council member; RObert Brennan, a Montgomery County builder who has filed for county council, and Jay N. Price, assistant chief administrative officer for Montgomery County, who has disclaimed interest in the race.
Also mentioned are Jane Plank, the mayor of Kensington, Md.; Jane Fude, the wife of Gilbert Gude, and DonR. Kendall, who ran against Gleason in the 1970 Republican primary and lost, despite the support of the GOP organization.
Democrats mentioned for the office include Charles Gilchrist, a state senator from Montgomery County and the only Democrat who has filed, and Royce Hanson, the head of the Maryland National Capitol Park and Planning Commission. Other Democrats include: John L. Menke, a current council member and a past council president; Sid Kramer, a former council member; Victor Crawford, a state senator, and Scott Fosler, chairman of the Montgomery County citizens task force on property assessments.