UPDATE (7:23 a.m.)—Embattled Baltimore County Republican Central Committee Chairman Tony Campbell said he will resign before the group's next monthly meeting.
“I will step down,” said Campbell, whose words during the committee’s Tuesday meeting could be heard by reporters and others asked to leave the room nearly three hours earlier.
Campbell and committee members who signed a letter of “no confidence” in Campbell agreed to meet over the next week and negotiate the terms of the resignation. Some wanted Campbell to have the discussion immediately and step down before the group left their meeting room in the Timonium Holiday Inn.
Following the meeting, Campbell said he wasn’t sure what the two sides would discuss.
“We’ll just sit down and talk,” Campbell said. “We’ll be human beings about it and just talk.”
The meeting could come within the next week. A resignation is expected within the next 30 days.
The announcement appears to end nine months of tension between Campbell and the 28-member committee, which started immediately after Campbell was sworn in last fall.
Since then, six of the members have resigned, though both sides disagree on the number of members who left as a direct result of Campbell’s leadership.
Campbell was criticized repeatedly for a divisive, lackluster style. He angered the committee when he issued a letter urging Republican County Council members to support a Democrat to be council chairman. He made statements on behalf of the committee about council redistricting when the committee had not agreed on an official position. And, his critics say, Campbell failed to get involved in issues such as the speed camera debate and an effort to overturn the new law that provides in-state tuition to some illegal immigrants.
Campbell was elected during the 2010 primary election and defeated Chris Cavey, a popular partisan figure who led the organization for seven years.
Most leaders of political party organizations are elected from within their respective memberships. The Baltimore County Republican Central Committee is believed to be the only one in the nation to elect its chairman through the Republican primary election. The bylaws of the group currently do not allow the committee to remove its chairman except in extreme cases.
Leaders of the group that sought to force Campbell’s resignation said they understood Campbell could refuse and create a standoff that could damage the party.
"I fear the attrition continues if we keep the status quo," Steve Kolbe, a Towson Republican, told Patch prior to the meeting.
Campbell’s calm announcement just after 10 p.m. was an unlikely end to a meeting that started with some members walking out when Campbell, a minister, decided to open the meeting by reading the 23rd Psalm rather than observing a moment of silence. A number of members, some Jewish, left the room during the reading.
The tension continued as Campbell refused to recognize members of the committee who planned to ask for his resignation even after the group defeated an attempt to adopt his agenda for the meeting and then replaced it with their own.
“Mr. Chairman, what are you afraid of?” yelled Michael Pappas, a Phoenix attorney who helped lead the faction seeking to oust Campbell.
Pappas’ group ultimately voted to close the meeting to all but voting members and alternates. About a dozen members of the public and a reporter were expelled from the room.
But the thin partitions of the temporary walls in the hotel ballroom could not contain the angry and frustrated voices of both sides.
“All you do is complain, complain, complain,” Georgie Trudil, a supporter of Campbell, said at one point.
Trudil frequently left the room. During one of those breaks, she passed a reporter and spoke.
“This is horrible,” Trudil said.
Back inside, some members unsuccessfully attempted to remove Trudil from her position on the committee. They later attempted to censure her, a form of formal reprimand, for what one member inside said was her frequent outbursts that were becoming a distraction.
Throughout the meeting, committee members seeking to force Campbell to resign aired their grievances.
Some complained about comments made by Campbell in a story on Patch Monday. Campbell criticized Steve Kolbe, a Towson Republican, for his statements in the same story.
Hillary Pennington, a Catonsville Republican, said Campbell publicly blamed her and other members for the failure of a major fundraiser earlier this year even though Campbell made all the decisions.
“You wouldn’t stand up and take responsibility,” Pennington could be heard saying. “That’s not a leader.”
Chris DeFeo, an aide to Del. Joseph Boteler, told Campbell that ticket sales fell this year because of the committee’s declining reputation among county Republicans.
“We’re a joke,” DeFeo said.
Pappas was also pointed in his comments.
“We’re broken,” Pappas said of the group. “We are a group of individuals that are begging for someone to lead us. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out for [Campbell].
“You can’t lead people who will not follow,” Pappas continued. “The people of this committee, rightly or wrongly, have indicated that we will not follow.”
Pappas urged Campbell to negotiate his resignation before the end of the meeting “and tomorrow is a new day.”
After the meeting, many members declined to comment, saying they were sticking to an agreement made in the room to simply say that the chairman had agreed to step down.
Pappas said that he and other committee members will seek to change the group’s bylaws to make it possible to remove future chairmen. The change will be voted on at the July meeting.
“This will make the chairman accountable to the committee,” Pappas said. “We all should be responsible for what we do.”
The group will also likely seek to have the legislature change the law and allow the group to elect its own chairman from within the group rather than through the primary election.
For Campbell, the announcement of his resignation reverses an earlier statement in which he said he would not be forced out.
“I decided I have more important things to do than this,” Campbell said. “I have my ministry to focus on. There are more important things to do than beat your head against a wall.”
Campbell said he had heard and understood members of the committee who said the tension was becoming “a distraction.”
“If I’m the cause of that, I need to go,” Campbell said.