Veteran County Council member Theodore J. Sophocleus captured the Democratic nomination for Anne Arundel County executive last night with a lopsided victory over his three rivals.
With all 133 precincts reporting, the 51-year-old Linthicum pharmacist who campaigned primarily on the strength of his man-next-door personality won with 43 percent of the vote.
"We tried to get the message to people that we were the candidate who knew the whole county and were working for the whole county," Sophocleus said last night after accepting his party's nomination.
Former Annapolis mayor Dennis Callahan ran second with 24 percent. And council member Michael F. Gilligan was a close third with 21 percent.
A fourth Democratic candidate, former state delegate Patricia Aiken, 68, of Annapolis, had 13 percent of the vote.
On the Republican side of the county executive's race, former House of Delegates minority leader Robert R. Neall, 42, fulfilled predictions that he would roll over Glen Burnie restaurant owner William J. Steiner Jr., 47, who ran on the single issue of legalizing slot machines as a revenue-generating measure. Steiner was recently convicted of receiving stolen property.
Neall won with 90 percent of the vote.
The county executive candidates in the Nov. 6 general election will compete to succeed James Lighthizer, a two-term executive who is forbidden to seek reelection to a third four-year term.
The Democratic nominee is expected to face a tough race against Neall, who has raised nearly $300,000 and spent little during the primary. What's more, county Republicans held the county executive's office for 17 years before Lighthizer's election and county Democrats have a history of often voting Republican in local elections.
In waging his first campaign for countywide office, Sophocleus drew heavily on alliances forged during his days as a PTA president, Little League coach and civic association president. He also spent two years attending meetings outside of his home district to broaden his support. The strategy bore fruit in a solid core of volunteers willing to carry his message throughout the county and a host of important endorsements.
It was a powerful recipe, one that Gilligan's professionally managed, media-heavy campaign, Aiken's shoestring organization and Callahan's late attempts to gain momentum by playing on homeowners' dissatisfaction with rising property tax bills apparently could not overcome.
Voters interviewed yesterday afternoon said they were not familiar enough with Gilligan's platform to vote for him, a possible result of the candidate's decision not to issue a long string of position papers; others said that while they liked Callahan's pledge of a two-year freeze on property taxes, they had negative impressions from his days as a sometimes contentious mayor.
Gilligan and Sophocleus had both pledged to build on Lighthizer's legacy of professional management, aggressive control of growth and increased spending for social services while imbuing the office with greater fiscal restraint and a more populist outlook.
By spending in excess of $250,000 each, the council members helped make the county executive's primary the most expensive local election in Anne Arundel County history.
Party leaders predicted that the outcome would hinge on whether voters prefer Sophocleus's gregarious, grass-roots approach or the subdued, business-oriented style of Gilligan, 47, a Glen Burnie lawyer.
In the three open-seat County Council races, former council member George F. Bachman, 69, won handily with 59 percent of the vote for the Democratic nomination to succeed Sophocleus in representing District 1. He will face Gerald P. Starr, 49, a financial administrator who won the Republican nomination with 67 percent of the vote.
In the five-way Democratic race to choose Gilligan's successor in District 2, lawyer Edward C. Middlebrooks narrowly won. He will face Ernest Michaelson, 55, or Michael Serabian, 35, Republicans who were only nine votes apart with absentee ballots yet to be counted.
In the District 5 Democratic race to choose a successor to retiring coucil member Carole B. Baker, former hospital administrator Linda Gilligan, 38, beat seven other candidates with 33 percent of the vote. Republican candidate Diane R. Evans, a former Neall aide, trounced her sole primary opponent, Andrew Buettner, by capturing 80 percent of the vote.