Gene Raynor pushed for the job of state elections administrator for three years, but now that he's gotten it, he's not sure exactly what he's going to do with it.
"It's going to be a learning process for me," said Raynor, a 30-year veteran of the Baltimore elections office.
He was named to replace a popular administrator last month in a controversial move by a longtime ally, Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"It's the top election job in the state," said Raynor, 51, who assumes the post July 1. "When I learn about the state board, I hope I'll be able to bring something to it."
Right now, though, Raynor is not contemplating any changes in the way candidates or elections are monitored, and he's not taking a position on whether campaign laws need to be tightened. Those issues, championed by his predecessor and the focus last year of a gubernatorial task force, are matters that Raynor said he as yet knows little about.
Raynor, who has headed the city elections office for 12 years, won the $51,000-a-year state post over the protests of many of the state's top elected officials, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Steny Hoyer, who urged Schaefer to reappoint current administrator Marie Garber.
Garber, 63, gained national recognition as Montgomery County's elections supervisor for 15 years, ushering in such changes as punch-card ballots and computer-based voting. In 1984, before being appointed to fill an unexpired term as election administrator for the state, she was called upon to unscramble voter records in the District of Columbia.
Some elected officials, particularly those from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, see Schaefer's appointment of Raynor as political cronyism and a particularly irritating example of the governor's tendency to surround himself with allies from Baltimore.
Schaefer has said that while he believes Garber is highly qualified, she has not been a supporter. He promised Raynor the job and said he believes he must honor that commitment.
"Raynor worked for me, helped me and is as qualified as anyone for that job," Schaefer said two months ago, explaining his decision to replace Garber. "You have two qualified people: one who was for you, one who wasn't for you. Now I don't think that takes a whole lot of thought."
Schaefer aide Mary Anne Saar said the job was promised to Raynor before Schaefer took office, but she said she did not know whether the commitment to the Baltimore election chief was made during the fall gubernatorial campaign.
Raynor, who sought the job in 1984, said he talked to Schaefer about the job during the campaign, but said, "I don't recall a total commitment."
Garber, who will remain in the job until the end of this month, said she is weighing job prospects outside state government. She turned down an offer to become Raynor's deputy.
Raynor said Garber has done "a remarkable job" and added, "I would hope to follow exactly what Marie Garber started."
Raynor, who owns a Fells Point restaurant popular with local politicians, will get a $15,000-a-year salary increase in his new post.
During an interview this week in his Baltimore office across the street from City Hall, Raynor said that he believes he has the most sophisticated computerized election record system in the state and said he is proud of the way the office has conducted accurate vote counts in the city. In the past nine years, he said, his office has conducted 18 vote recounts, "and we never have been reversed, and never had one vote change."
He said one of his priorities will be to visit all the local election boards around the state in an effort to encourage close cooperation with the state office. But his first order of business, he said, will be to let Garber's 15-member staff know that their jobs are secure.
"I'm sure the employes of the state board know more than I do," he said.