Edmond Rovner, the longtime Democratic activist who is special assistant to Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, told a story last week about buying a bike for his son. The bicycle came unassembled.
"How long could it take? What's the big deal?" Rovner recalled thinking. Many hours later and with fingers worn Rovner ended up with a bike that, he confessed, "I never had faith in it, to tell you the truth." He also ended up with the realization of just how much he had miscalculated.
Rovner told the story to illustrate what he thinks was at the heart of County Council member Michael L. Gudis' short-lived and, many think, ill-conceived candidacy for Congress. "He miscalculated," Rovner said. "We all do."
Gudis, a three-term council member, entered the race to become the Democratic candidate for Congress in Maryland's 8th District on Christmas Eve proclaiming that he -- more than any other candidate -- had the leadership and experience to deal with the issues. He withdrew two weeks later saying he couldn't "simultaneously do justice to a campaign for Congress and fulfill my responsibilities as a member of the Montgomery County Council."
His abrupt withdrawal came on the heels of his poor performance at the first candidates' forum of the March 8 primary race. He fumbled a question on complicated legislation supported by labor, spoke generally about the new immigration law and the federal deficit and -- in an admission that stunned the audience -- said he was "not familiar" with the Central American peace plan drawn up by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
Gudis said the debate helped him realize that, with the race so close at hand, there wasn't time for him to master "the increasingly complex national issues on an accelerated schedule" and still meet his responsibilities as a council member. In other words, he miscalculated.
Hadn't this occurred to him two weeks earlier when he announced his candidacy? Gudis said he had thought his "general familiarity" with national issues coupled with his "extensive knowledge" of the county and its needs would be enough "to describe my views and values to the people of this county."
Gudis raised a minimal amount of money: "not more than a few hundred dollars." Contrast that with the $18,500 raised by someone who never even got into the race, Harold Luks, an international trade specialist from Silver Spring. Luks had wanted to run but decided to sit it out after Gudis announced.
What Gudis had -- and apparently what he thought would make the difference in his candidacy -- was the endorsements of some Democratic heavyweights. County Executive Kramer was aboard, so was former congressman Carlton Sickles and state Sen. Laurence Levitan. Council President Michael L. Subin and Council member Rose Crenca also endorsed him. And he was likely to get support from Rovner, Stanton J. Gildenhorn, Gilbert Lessenco and Susan Hoffmann, Democratic activists who are close to Kramer and are perceived to have influence as well as political smarts.
However, "Endorsements rarely produce votes," said one Democratic leader who had criticized Gudis' decision to run.
Gudis' about-face prompted some party leaders, including some of his supporters, to question whether Gudis entered the race to further his name recognition and enhance his party standing for a possible run for state comptroller, an office in which Gudis has expressed interest. Gudis admits it long had been his ambition to be state comptroller but said that was not why he entered the race.
Gudis' performance at the debate did not surprise some political activists and some advocacy groups who have criticized Gudis as indecisive. Gudis admits hearing such criticism but doesn't think the reputation is deserved.
Why the rush of endorsements?
"Listen, I really didn't have a choice," said one officeholder, explaining that Gudis had supported him in the past and had done nothing to deserve the swipe of withheld support.
Endorsing Gudis also was seen as being safer than endorsing Del. Peter Franchot, a newcomer to county politics who had been viewed as an outsider. Indeed, the primary was shaping up into a classic fight of insiders vs. outsiders. When Gudis pulled the plug, some of the politicians who had been cool to Franchot decided he represented their best shot at getting the 8th District seat back from Republican Constance Morella.
The endorsement of Gudis has become a double-edged sword for his backers. On the one hand, they were politically embarrassed -- by the poor performance of their candidate and the abrupt aborting of his candidacy. On the other hand, they could use Gudis' withdrawal to refute a criticism that he was the choice of the party bosses. Said Susan Hoffmann, one of the county's lobbyists in Annapolis, "I think it will put lie to the rumor that he was the handpicked candidate of the party machine."