Unspun: Vinny DeMarco — ‘Spinny Vinny’
By Kate Havard,
Name: Vincent DeMarco
Occupation: President, Marylanders To Prevent Gun Violence
How come you’re not drinking coffee?
This is my drink, hot chocolate with soy milk. I use coffee, only as a drug if I have to drive late at night.
Tell me what you’re working on in Annapolis this session.
This is a big week for us, for Marylanders to Prevent Gun violence, we’re promoting lifesaving gun violence prevention laws. Our main proposal is to license handgun purchasers, which will save lives in Maryland. It has in other states. The public will is there for this, we just have to change it into political power.
What kind of issues have you been involved in before now?
In the mid-eighties, if you really want to go back — the first issue I worked on like this — Marylanders for a Sane Constiutional something or other. They were going to call for a constitutional convention for a Balanced Budget amendment. ... a couple of years after that, we formed a group on the gun issue, Marylanders against Hand Gun Abuse. We led the fight for a Saturday Night Special ban in 1988, defeated the gun lobby in a referendum ... I began work on tobacco issues, something called the Maryland Children’s Initiative, to increase cigarette taxes. Then in 1999 we created the Maryland Healthcare for All Coalition, and we’ve had a very successful 15 years. We’ve increased cigarette taxes three times ... and we’re going to work to increase it one more time.
How many business cards would you say you have?
Good question. Let me count them — that’s five. It gets complicated.
Describe what it is you do.
I am a public health advocate. You see a substantial problem, you come up with a solution, we know that something will work, like licensing hand guns, raising cigarette taxes — then you mobilize public support for it. I’ve got a six-step process.
After the gun control issue this session, what will you do next?
Well, we have to get this [gun] bill passed. Then, I’ll be working on health care for a long time. There’s a lot to do to fully implement the Affordable Care Act ... We’re going to make increasing the cigarette tax a dollar per pack an issue in the next election.
Where are you from?
I was born in Italy, actually, in a town called Trevico, beautiful little town, high up on a mountain. When Mussolini conquered Ethiopia, my grandfather went as a colonist and opened up a store there, a grocery store. And when the British liberated Ethiopia they threw him in jail and the Italian government felt guilty about that, so they gave priority for his family in the quota so that they could come to America. We moved to New Jersey, where my parents still are, and I came down to Maryland for undergrad at [Johns] Hopkins.
Do you ever go back to Italy?
Yes. Not enough. Do you know the Beverly Hillbillies? When I go visit my very erudite relatives in Italy, I am Jethro Clampett.
How’d you get involved in politics?
I was one of those kids who was always interested in politics ... I always followed the presidential elections. But one formative thing in my life was the assassination of Robert Kennedy. I was 11 years old. When he was assassinated ... it really moved me. One of the things I’ve greatly enjoyed is working with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on gun control, when we defeated the NRA in 1998, she had never wanted to talk about the issue before, but then she did, she wrote this beautiful letter saying, “my father was killed by a Saturday Night Special.”
What do you listen to for fun?
I listen to books, a lot of books on tape. Right now I’m listening to Robert Moses, “The Power Broker” by Robert A. Caro. And “Man of La Mancha” I’m a big fan of Don Quixote, and I listen to that all of the time. And I also like Joseph and the Amazing Coat, whatever it’s called. I like Cat Stevens, Billy Joel. I like Musicals, like Godspell. But mostly “Man of La Mancha,” I’ve listened to it a million times.
Do you see yourself as a Caro-like figure? Are you a power broker?
[Long, loud laugh] Oh, god, no! I am the luckiest guy in the world ... I would never seek elective office. I am where I want to be.
Have you ever had a nickname?
Martin O’Malley once called me “Spinny Vinny.” It was only in passing ... ah, an opponent once called me an “Ignoramus of the First Order,” which I really like. It’s an insult you have to think about. You know, it sounds like it comes with a robe or a cape or something. I don’t know why they get so personal about it ... I love what I do.