John R. Leopold stepped down Friday as Anne Arundel County executive, bringing an apparent end to the decades-long career of an idiosyncratic and charismatic force in Maryland politics who as recently as a year ago was considering a run for statewide office.
The two-term Republican, suspended from his position since his conviction Tuesday on two counts of misconduct in office, announced the decision in a letter to acting County Executive John Hammond.
"After much thought and deliberation, it is with great sadness and personal regret that I advise you of my decision to resign from the Office of County Executive," Leopold said in the typewritten letter. "This decision is the most difficult decision I have ever made, but I know that it is the right one in the best interest of the citizens of Anne Arundel County."
The decision came as the County Council prepared to vote on legislation to oust him. Council Chairman Jerry Walker said the measure, which had been set for a public hearing and vote Monday, would be withdrawn.
"He did the right thing," Walker said.
A county spokesman said he did not know how the resignation would affect Leopold's pension. Anne Arundel voters approved an amendment to the county charter last year to take away the pension of a county executive who is removed by the council for conviction of crimes of moral turpitude, misfeasance or malfeasance. County spokesman Dave Abrams said Leopold was due to receive $8,017 annually.
With the resignation, the council has 30 days to appoint a successor. Several Republicans, including Walker, have expressed interest in the job.
Leopold was found guilty of misconduct Tuesday for directing his police protection detail to put up signs during his 2010 re-election campaign, to collect campaign checks and to compile dossiers on his adversaries, and for having officers and his scheduler drain the urinary catheter bag he used after back surgery that year.
Just as damaging, politically, might have been the counts on which Leopold was found not guilty.
After hearing testimony from police officers and other public employees, Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney found that Leopold had used members of his detail to drive him to a bowling alley parking lot for weekly sexual liaisons with a county worker and to drive him around as he uprooted campaign signs for 2010 challenger Joanna Conti. But the judge said those actions did not amount to criminal misconduct in office.
Leopold, who turns 70 Monday, is to be sentenced March 14.
State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, who argued the case against Leopold in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, said the resignation was not part of a sentencing deal.
"Under the circumstances, I think it was the appropriate thing to do, but it doesn't affect our sentencing recommendations," Davitt said.
Davitt said he had not decided what to recommend to Sweeney.
Leopold attorney Bruce Marcus said the decision to resign was strictly Leopold's and was not intended to curry favor with Davitt or Sweeney. The defense team is compiling information on Leopold's decades of public service to give to the judge before sentencing.
In his letter, Leopold wrote of his first election to public office 45 years ago and said he had dedicated his life to public service.
The Philadelphia native began his political career in Hawaii, where in 1968 he became the first Republican to win election to the state board of education. He later served in the state's House of Representatives and its Senate before an unsuccessful run in 1978 as the Republican nominee for governor.
He also served as a state director for Planned Parenthood, and drew national attention in 1980 when he battled unsuccessfully on the floor of the Republican National Convention to keep the Equal Rights Amendment in the GOP platform.
Leopold moved to Maryland in 1981, and won election to the House of Delegates from Anne Arundel County the next year. He would serve four more terms in the House before his election as county executive in 2006.
In office, Leopold steered the county through the fiscal challenges brought on by recession while butting heads with county employees unions. Supporters praised his constituent service and environmental record.