From The Post
Lawmaker to Fight Ouster
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 14, 1998; Page A01
Maryland Sen. Larry Young vowed last night to fight efforts to expel him on ethics charges, as lawmakers braced for a tense opening of the General Assembly today, fearful of racial divisions and the prospects for renewed scrutiny into the ways that lawmakers' public and private business can overlap.
Senate leaders urged Young (D-Baltimore) to resign rather than face a likely expulsion vote by his colleagues next week. But Young, a key figure in health care policy and state Democratic politics, held a rally in his district and went on a talk radio station to declare his innocence and defiance.
Young urged followers to come by bus to Annapolis today and watch him take his seat on the Senate floor. "I'm going to go to Annapolis with my head high," Young said. "I never intentionally or willfully violated any of the ethics laws of our state."
The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics issued a scathing report Monday saying Young had violated a variety of ethics rules by using his legislative position to help obtain private contracts worth thousands of dollars.
Although Young isn't widely known beyond Annapolis and Baltimore, his case could have statewide repercussions. Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and the General Assembly's Democratic leadership are eager to resolve the matter as soon as possible, lest it dominate the 90-day legislative session, which is otherwise expected to focus on budget matters. [Details, Page B1.]
Moreover, the affair could bring greater scrutiny of legislators' private-sector professions that are affected in some ways by legislative action. Ethics committee members said Young's alleged violations went far beyond those of other legislators, but Young's defenders say he is being subjected to a double standard.
Cathy Hughes, a familiar talk radio host on black-oriented stations in Washington and Baltimore, told listeners that Young is a victim of racist newspapers, and that the case against him amounts to "a lynching." She said she will reject a $500,000 grant that her Radio One company received from the State of Maryland -- after a vigorous effort by Glendening and other Democrats -- because the lawmakers behind it now "have blood on their hands."
The controversy over Young was precipitated by a Dec. 3 Baltimore Sun article, which prompted an ongoing criminal investigation by the state prosecutor and an ethics inquiry by the legislature.
Throughout the day, Glendening sought to distance himself from Young, one of the governor's staunchest supporters. The governor said he was confident that the Senate would handle the ethics case appropriately.
Republicans, however, signaled that they hope to keep the Young controversy alive. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a GOP gubernatorial candidate, said: "This is bringing back everything that Parris Glendening had hoped would go away."
Senate leaders have embraced the committee's call to strip Young of all committee assignments. They called for Senate votes as early as Monday on whether to censure and expel him.
No senator in Maryland history has been expelled under such circumstances. Some -- including Young's predecessor, Michael B. Mitchell -- have been forced to leave after being convicted of a crime.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said yesterday, "It would be extremely difficult for Senator Young to survive a vote" on expulsion, which would require the assent of two-thirds of the 47 senators. He said he and the 16 members of the Senate leadership would vote for expulsion. Asked if Young should resign, Miller said, "Common sense would dictate that course."
The proposed expulsion of Young, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, has infuriated some of his west Baltimore constituents and has divided the General Assembly's African American members. The 12-person joint ethics committee voted unanimously to adopt Monday's full report. But the two black members earlier had voted against including the call for an expulsion decision by the full Senate.
Those two -- Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Decatur W. Trotter (D-Prince George's) -- said that race was not an issue in their votes. Trotter said yesterday he will not vote to expel Young.
Some other black senators said that Young should resign because of the breadth of the charges outlined in the ethics report, which concluded that Young had "betrayed the public trust in many ways." In the House of Delegates, which has no say in a senator's expulsion, he found more allies.
Del. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's) said Young is a victim of double standards that treat white legislators more leniently.
"There are things that go on every day in Annapolis," Muse said. "But they either don't get reported or they go away. . . . The appearance is that in light of recent situations involving other government officials, he has been treated harsher."
Muse said the Senate's Democratic leaders may have overreacted because they worry that Republicans could make an issue of Young in this fall's elections.
"I think this has the potential to cause a rift in the Democratic Party," Muse said. "I think this will cause African Americans to stay at home on Election Day."
But Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) said that he has confidence in the committee's recommendations and that he would vote for expulsion.
"I think everything we do has racial overtones," said Currie, who is black. "But you have to believe that what the people who sat on the ethics committee heard warranted the recommendations they have given."
Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D-Prince George's) urged Young to resign so he "can leave with dignity and grace and not have to go through the expulsion process. I would prefer not to witness that." Lawlah, who is black, said she hopes that the Young case will prompt a clarification of ethics rules.
"It's treacherous," she said of the ethical situations in which legislators often find themselves. "I think it's an area that's like quicksand."
Last year, Lawlah acknowledged that she had overlooked her obligation to tell the joint ethics committee of her two contracts with Bowie State University. Similarly, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore) had failed to disclose her contract with Johns Hopkins University, which receives state funds. Both filed the disclosures belatedly after The Washington Post inquired about the contracts.
Lawmakers are required to disclose possible conflicts of interest arising from their private jobs or other interests. Unless the ethics committee rules otherwise, they can vote on matters related to those interests if they declare they are not unduly influenced.
Despite many ethics committee rulings, the guidelines are open to different interpretations. Former senator Larry Levitan (D-Montgomery) lobbied the Montgomery County Council on behalf of a private client when he chaired the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee, which helps decide how much state aid a county will receive. That didn't constitute an ethics violation, but Sen. Jean W. Roesser (R-Montgomery) cited the episode often in her 1994 campaign that ousted Levitan.
In his radio appearance yesterday, Young hinted that he may point to other legislators' possible conflicts of interest. "If they're going to start putting out what's what, let it open up," he said. "Let the quote-unquote sunshine really start, and let's talk about what's going on."
Several legislators speculated that Young may eventually decide to resign in hopes of mitigating possible criminal investigations. But his lawyer, Gregg L. Bernstein, said yesterday that Young and his legal team have had no contact with prosecutors.
Staff writers Hamil R. Harris and Terry M. Neal contributed to this report.
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