Those in search of high drama and low humor in politics need to look no further than Anne Arundel County government.
The county council finally ended its weeks of dysfunction when Republican Council member Dick Ladd switched his vote to Peter Smith as the replacement of council member Daryl Jones, who went off to federal prison. The council was already deeply divided along partisan lines, and the prolonged deadlock served to deepen the embarrassment.
Before Ladd switched his vote, Del. Pam Beidle, a Democrat who used to represent the same council district, said, “I’m embarrassed to be from Anne Arundel County.” This was the fourth time in the last two decades that the council has had to replace a member, but the first time there’s been a major controversy.
Unless you’ve sworn off TV and radio for Lent or been out of the country, you’ve no doubt heard of the indictment of Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold for misuse of his public office.
Some of the insinuations of Leopold’s sexual escapades in parked cars came out before the last election. However, the nine-page indictment gives considerably more detail. Using his county police details to transport him to these assignations is pretty tawdry, if true, but were there no cheap motels suitable for these encounters that took place “two or three times each week” in the midst of the election campaign?
Ripping out Campaign Signs
There were plenty of unseemly allegations in the indictment, but frankly the most shocking were not the sexual trysts, buta the purported violations of campaign laws. These, by the way, were at the top of the indictment and are the kind of issues that the state prosecutor’s office was created to investigate.
Leopold allegedly had the plain clothes cops assigned to him for protection collect campaign checks and campaign signs. But what’s worse, he had a county cop, driving a county car, drive him to the site of campaign signs for his Democratic opponent, Joanna Conti. There, Leopold personally removed the signs and threw them away. This happened on three occasions, according to the indictment, and one dark morning before sunrise, Leopold stopped at several locations to remove the signs.
Sex between consenting adults is one thing — even if you get the cops to drive you there and back. But removing and destroying campaign signs of an opponent aided by your law enforcement detail goes way over the line. According to the indictment, the executive protection officers reported this behavior to Chief of Police James Teare, but he did nothing. The police union, which has its own agenda, passed a no confidence vote against the chief.
“With all the serious problems facing our county, it is pathetic to think that John Leopold could have been spending his time slinking around stealing my signs,” Conti said after the indictment. “If these charges are true, Mr. Leopold is not fit to hold office and should resign immediately.”
No Resignation in the Works
Leopold has no intention of resigning. He has continued to do his job and appear in public, smiling and affable. The violations of campaign law are probably the most serious of the charges against him, but is removal from office the fit punishment for destroying campaign signs, or ordering police to collect your own signs after the election?
It turns out Leopold also used the police to do opposition research against his political opponents, included searching of the crime database.
There is an even larger question of why a county executive needs a security detail.
The police will insist that it is necessary part of their job, but what is a police chief appointed by the county executive going to say? The county executives in Howard, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties all have these cops driving them and guarding them. Do they really need sworn law enforcement officers to do that? Couldn’t a security guard or a retired cop do the job, if the exec needs a driver? What kind of threats do they forestall?
As Conti said in her statement, “What a mess.”
Sen. Ed Reilly, a Republican who served on council before he was appointed to the Senate, said that with a charter review commission working on improvements to the county charter, now would be time to have “a good discussion” about the process for replacing members of the council and the county executive, if necessary.