A Maverick Proud of His Jail Time Takes on Steny Hoyer in Primary

James P. Cusick Sr. wants to scale back the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the region's largest employer.
James P. Cusick Sr. wants to scale back the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the region's largest employer. (By James A. Parcell For The Washington Post)
By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008

Some people say that James P. Cusick Sr.'s five trips to jail in the past 14 years make him unlikely to unseat one of Maryland's most powerful politicians. Only his most ardent backers have kept the faith, and they're not talking.

"Oh, nobody would say good things about me in the newspaper," Cusick said when asked about key supporters. "They don't want to be laughed at like I am."

To call Cusick a laughingstock over his run for office might overstate his name recognition in Maryland's 5th District, where conversations about congressional representation have begun and ended with Steny H. Hoyer (D) for 27 years. And with Cusick forgoing any efforts at fundraising or introducing himself to voters, he acknowledges that it would take a miracle to beat the U.S. House majority leader in the Feb. 12 Democratic primary.

"The quality of the challengers, we know in politics, is related to vulnerability of incumbents," said Michael Cain, chairman of the Political Science Department of St. Mary's College of Maryland and an expert on state politics. "A candidate who is largely invulnerable to any challenge is not going to get a challenge from any prominent Democrat."

Hoyer has not spent much time worrying about his primary opponent, scheduling few campaign events in favor of working as usual on Capitol Hill. Asked about the challenge posed by Cusick, a campaign spokesman replied, "Congressman Hoyer looks forward to continuing to serve as a strong and effective representative of Maryland's 5th Congressional District."

Cusick, 51, is convinced he can, however, pull the ultimate David vs. Goliath upset if voters concentrate on his key issues -- eliminating abortion and ending the war in Iraq. But residents who have heard of him tend to focus more on his biography. His Web site, after breezing through the dates he received his GED and got married, the birth of his son and his divorce (1975, '76, '77 and '83, respectively) states: "In 1994 was the first time incarceration 3 months for child support and again 6 months in 1997." Farther down, the narrative continues: "Mr. Cusick proceeded to spray paint the 4 pillars on the front of the Circuit Court house in Leonardtown with green spray paint."

"Child support is legalized stealing," he wrote on the pillars, along with "Thou shall not steal" and "Inside this court is a den of thieves."

Cusick admits that eliminating child support may not be a traditional platform for a congressional candidate, but he is adamant in his belief that the system of one parent paying another is corrupt and unjust. His answer: Let the parents work out a solution themselves.

And if they can't?

"They'll have to," he said. "If the state refuses to get involved, they won't have any choice."

When Cusick divorced his wife at age 25, after six years of marriage, he said despair and confusion pushed him to leave St. Mary's County for the first time in his life. He bounced from job to job in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, California, Wyoming, Illinois and New York. With no job prospects, he missed making child support payments for several years. He said he filed several petitions to delay his payments, but "corrupt" judges wouldn't accept his arguments, even after his wife died of cancer and he was required to pay her second husband.

"It's unacceptable, oppressive, tyrannical to make people continue to pay when they don't have money," Cusick said.

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