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  • To his defenders, state Sen. Larry Young is the victim of an ethical double standard.
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    Trouble Catches Up With Young

    By Charles Babington and Doug Struck
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Friday, January 16, 1998; Page A01


    Maryland Legislature

    Since Monday, many of Maryland Sen. Larry Young's colleagues have treated him like a pariah, and today they may make him the first senator in Maryland history to be expelled by his peers.

    But for years, state Democratic leaders, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Prince George's), welcomed Young into the upper echelon of political power, overlooking or tolerating ethical and legal scrapes.

    The many controversies that swirled around Young included a 1986 legislative admonishment for soliciting campaign money from lobbyists, a false report that he was abducted and the unsolved slaying of a friend.

    Political insiders say Young thrived because he was a gifted politician who could draw voters to the polls and connect top-ranking Democrats with deep-pocket contributors. When he was criticized, Young often rallied support by going on black-oriented talk radio stations to denounce his detractors as racially motivated opponents who resented an African American's political success.

    Now that Young is in the deepest trouble of his career, after a scathing legislative ethics committee report Monday urged the Senate to vote on expelling him, Glendening and Miller are being questioned because of their long-standing political association with the Baltimore Democrat.

    Young helped turn out the Baltimore vote for Glendening in 1994. When Glendening needed money to fight the legal challenge of his close election victory, the biggest contribution -- $95,000 -- came from Young's longtime benefactor and former employee, ambulance company owner Willie Runyon. Runyon, his family and company also gave $16,000 to Glendening's 1994 campaign and $15,000 more -- in Young's name -- to the governor's inauguration.

    And last year, when the governor was striving to persuade Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) to stay out of the 1998 governor's race, Young organized an early reelection endorsement by Baltimore's state senators.

    As a sign of their closeness, Young told several colleagues, Glendening gave him a phone number to the governor's office shared only by Glendening's family. Glendening and his son also joined Young and Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D-Baltimore) for a well-publicized evening of bowling for a Baltimore charity in September 1996.

    Miller, meanwhile, made Young the chairman of the Senate's Executive Nominations Committee, which oversees gubernatorial appointments. Miller also agreed to create a new health subcommittee that Young chaired and used as a source of influence with several health care companies that gave him contracts or grants, according to an ethics report this week.

    Such moves already are providing ammunition for Republicans seeking to topple Glendening and other Democrats in this year's statewide elections and have raised questions about the leadership's role in Young's long survival.

    "There's no question that Mike Miller is responsible to a very large degree for Young getting in as deep as he was," said Del. John S. Morgan (R-Howard), who sat on the ethics committee that heard the charges.

    Young's activities, Morgan said, "were common knowledge for a long time. Mike Miller did a disservice to every senator by not disciplining Young a long time ago. But he didn't want to antagonize Young and create a division in the Senate. He decided to have a blind spot."

    Glendening, too, "has a lot to answer for" to explain his ties to Young and campaign funds collected from Young's political and health care contacts, Morgan said. "He needs to throw some sunlight on that whole issue."

    But some independent observers of state politics said the Young situation simply highlights how things get done in Maryland.

    "It has to do with power," said Deborah Povich, the former executive director of the Maryland chapter of Common Cause, who monitored the General Assembly for years. "Larry Young learned how to exercise power, and he did so to his advantage. At the same time, he helped others. He was known to turn out the vote, and he had very good connections to people who had lots of money. . . . So I think he was more beneficial than detrimental."

    Asked about Young yesterday, Glendening said: "It's frustrating in many ways because I've known Larry Young for many years and, quite frankly, he's a friend. But at the same time, we must protect the integrity of the legislature and make sure that the really important issues don't get stalled because of this." He declined to be interviewed further for this article.

    A Glendening spokesman said Young uses the same phone number to call the governor's office as other legislators who have visited the governor.

    Miller said he has handled the Young matter properly, convening the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics after a Baltimore Sun article accused Young of misusing his office for private gain. It wasn't his job, Miller said, to track down the rumors of misdeeds and aggressive fund-raising that have dogged Young's 23-year legislative career.

    "Innuendo and mere allegation I leave to investigative reporters and prosecutors," Miller said.

    Asked why legislators did not earlier turn their backs on a colleague who bounced from one controversy to another, Miller said: "The Senate operates on a combination of seniority and leadership abilities. Both are extremely important," and Young had both.

    Miller, Glendening and other Democratic leaders had been willing to overlook the less savory side of Young's reputation until this week, when the ethics committee issued its report calling for a vote on expulsion. The report said Young had used his legislative influence to attract grants, gifts and contracts worth many thousands of dollars. In return, the report said, Young performed little meaningful work on the contracts.

    Young has denied wrongdoing and says he will answer his critics on the Senate floor today.

    Ethics committee members said they focused only on recent allegations regarding Young. But Miller said the long history of Young's ethical and legal problems is well known in Annapolis. "There's a cumulative effect of all these incidents that weighs on people's minds," he said.

    Young was elected to the House of Delegates at age 25, in 1974, representing an inner-city district that's one of the poorest in Baltimore. His political mentors were the Mitchells, a Baltimore family with a legacy of political success and legal woes. His two predecessors in the Senate seat he won in 1988 -- Clarence M. Mitchell III and his brother Michael B. Mitchell -- were convicted of wire fraud and obstruction of justice in the federal investigation of military contractor Wedtech Corp.

    In the legislature, Young slowly gained political power. Cardin, then the House speaker, tapped him to chair the House Environmental Matters Committee.

    But the next speaker, R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent) -- who is not related to the Baltimore Mitchells -- bounced Young from the post in 1986, in part because of his aggressive campaign fund-raising. Young had apologized and returned $7,000 after soliciting campaign money from lobbyists appearing before his committee.

    In 1988, Young went to a staff member's home and got into a fight. Young then told police the man had kidnapped him and eventually dropped him off in Druid Hill Park. The headlines read, "Senator says he was abducted," but Young later recanted the story.

    Young was charged with filing a false report, a misdemeanor. He was acquitted when the staff member did not show up in court to testify.

    More serious was his brush with law enforcement in 1990 after the slaying of a close friend, the Rev. Marvin Moore. The Washington Post reported in November that Young was named in police reports as a suspect in that case. Moore was found shot to death in his bed.

    According to the police reports, FBI agents had interviewed Moore shortly before his death as part of a federal investigation involving Young. The Post quoted some police investigators as saying they believed Young's political position obstructed the investigation. Young's attorney said that the senator was not involved in the killing, which remains unsolved, and that Young did not believe he was a suspect.

    In 1992, after his election to the Senate, Young again raised eyebrows while involving himself deeply in health-related legislation. Then-House Speaker Mitchell killed a bill -- which would have increased costs for private patients in nursing homes -- because of his worries about Young's ties to the nursing home industry, sources said at the time.

    Young survived those political problems largely because he's bright, gregarious and hard-working, according to many who know him.

    "He has great natural abilities," Miller said. "He's a fine communicator."

    Miller said Young was made chairman of the Senate Finance health subcommittee because he was deeply interested in the subject and willing to work hard. "Larry chose to make himself an expert in health care," Miller said. "And it inured to his benefit because of his relationship to Willie Runyon."

    A veteran lobbyist in Annapolis said Young "parlayed three chairmanships -- of the black caucus, the Executive Nominations Committee and the health subcommittee -- into enormous influence. Add that to a very public relationship with the governor, and you have tremendous power. In the last three years, he had become one of Glendening's closest legislative allies. Glendening thought Young could keep Baltimore's senators in line and deliver the city vote for him."

    The FBI has long been interested in Young's financial dealings, according to 1990 police reports, interviews with agents and a court deposition. And a public flap over his efforts to obtain a liquor license for a friend with a criminal history has prompted inquiries by state investigators, according to those contacted by state authorities.

    When he sponsored the liquor application, Young asserted that he did not know that Kenneth A. "Kenny Bird" Johnson, whom he called a close friend, had been arrested numerous times over 20 years and acquitted of charges involving drug dealing, bribery and murder. He was convicted of a felony weapon charge, making him ineligible for a license.

    The extent of Young's personal gain from entities doing business with the state is only now coming to light -- the ethics committee estimated he had received $250,000 -- but the trappings of Young's legislative office always aroused curiosity.

    Young is one of the few rank-and-file legislators who has a chauffeur, often a young man on his staff. The ethics committee found that Young improperly mixed legislative and personal business in his Baltimore district office, where the state government and his businesses shared the rent.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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