Prince George's Hopeful Is 'No Angel'
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 1998; Page D1
Randy McRae appeared to come out of nowhere four months ago when he stood with his minister and his family on the steps of his Capitol Heights church to declare that a God-fearing man such as himself should be the next Prince George's county executive.
Out on the campaign trail, McRae often accuses incumbent Wayne K. Curry (D) of being short on Christian kindness, and his seemingly wholesome image has attracted more and more attention in recent weeks from union officials, civic activists and others looking for a fresh alternative. Even Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) was intrigued enough to give McRae an audience.
But McRae's campaign speeches do not touch on his own past moral lapses.
"I'm no angel," he acknowledged in an interview this week.
McRae was sentenced to probation before judgment in 1988 for assaulting his first wife after a series of domestic disputes, and one of his chief campaign aides, Donald Ervin, is a convicted drug dealer who spent nine years in a federal prison. Ervin also is employed in McRae's law practice.
Details of McRae's past began to emerge when The Washington Post examined the Democrat's campaign finance reports filed last week and found possible irregularities, including his receipt of a $50,000 Ferrari that appears to exceed the $4,000 contribution limit from a single donor under Maryland law. Two contributors listed in the report, Ervin and Anthinino "Terry" Galloway, are convicted drug dealers who were apprehended in the same cocaine bust in 1988.
McRae said he is "not ashamed" of his past. He acknowledged having altercations with his first wife and said, "I'm nonviolent with anyone who is nonviolent with me." He also conceded: "I have friends who were drug dealers. I grew up in the 'hood."
"If people want to interpret this as Randy has poor character, they are looking at it differently than I am," McRae said. "Randy McRae is a success story."
McRae, 39, grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Capitol Heights, the second oldest of five boys raised by their mother, Rosalee Sellers, and stepfather, Woodrow Sellers. Rosalee Sellers is a retired computer technician, and Woodrow Sellers operates a bulldozer for the city of College Park.
McRae graduated from Bladensburg High School 10 years after Curry attended the same school and went on to Bowie State University and law school at Catholic University. He graduated from law school in 1987 and went to work writing tax regulations for Freddie Mac, a federally chartered mortgage finance institution, before going into private practice as a certified public accountant and personal injury lawyer.
In 1992, McRae and noted Washington area civil rights lawyer Donald Temple set up shop in the same law office in the Watergate complex for a brief period. Temple described his law practice with McRae as "office-sharing rather than a partnership."
"You must emphasize it was short-lived," Temple said. "I'm not assisting his campaign."
Since 1994, McRae has been on his own, building a lucrative personal injury practice in a Capitol Hill row house that he said has enabled him to finance his bid for county executive.
"If you can find another CPA-lawyer from Capitol Heights, you put him on a trophy," McRae said. "I'm the guy who went off and did good."
His friends and neighbors said McRae has not forgotten them. They recalled that he bought computers for the Sunday school at Jordan Baptist Church, where he is a deacon, and that he dispenses free legal and tax advice to those who need him.
"He's a wonderful role model for the children of Prince George's County, that you can go from zero and go to the top," said Kenneth Brewer, a D.C. real estate developer and contributor to McRae's campaign.
Political pundits, however, do not expect McRae to beat Curry, in part because he started with little name recognition and stumbled out of the gates. McRae, a Democrat, initially announced that he would run as a Republican but changed his mind and filed for the Sept. 15 Democratic primary as the sole challenger to Curry.
Still, McRae has managed to find a receptive audience in quarters hostile to the incumbent. He is seeking the endorsement of union groups, and two weeks ago, he arranged to sit down with Glendening in an effort to win the governor's endorsement. Glendening will not offer one, his campaign spokesman said.
"Regardless of the message, most people want to know there is a viable alternative," McRae said. "They tell you they are going to vote for you because you aren't Wayne Curry."
Curry declined to discuss his challenger, saying that McRae needs him to make headlines.
McRae is running on a platform to lower income taxes, improve public schools and be personally more accessible to residents. But perhaps the most visible sign to date that he is serious about his challenge was contained in his campaign finance report, which suggested that he was lending his campaign $570,000.
The loan was to come out of the available equity in an apartment complex McRae owns in Northeast Washington, the campaign finance report shows. In addition, McRae reported that he had raised $66,000 in contributions, $50,000 of which represents the value of the Ferrari, according to the finance report.
McRae said he is selling raffle tickets for the car to help fund his campaign. The car is listed in the report as a donation from D&S Auto Body on Branch Avenue, a business that is not listed in the telephone directory and could not be found at the address reported in the finance statement.
McRae said that Ervin arranged for the vehicle and that a receipt could not be located.
"If we misinterpreted the [election rules], we'll take it off," he said.
There have been other miscues.
A fund-raiser scheduled for yesterday was canceled after McRae sent invitations to about 2,000 people for an event that he claimed was to be sponsored by Sue V. Mills, a former Prince George's County Council member who battled Curry in the Democratic primary four years ago.
McRae had told people that Mills and Democrat Beatrice P. Tignor, who also lost to Curry in the 1994 primary, had endorsed him.
"I'm dumbfounded," Mills said when asked about the invitations. "I want that retracted. I never told him I'd do it. I'm not supporting anyone. I am just furious."
Tignor also said she never told McRae that she would support him.
"I have not endorsed a candidate, and I'm not going to," Tignor said.
McRae blamed both instances on misunderstandings.
"I've been talking to politicians all the time," he said. "They all love Randy McRae. They'll vote for him. But getting it in writing is difficult."
Metro Resource Director Margot Williams and Suburban Resource Director Bridget Roeber contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company