The Maryland Senate approved the D.C. voting rights amendment today with the same 26 votes that passed it last year, but not before two supporters wavered enough in the final hours to give the measure's sponsors a scare.
The amendment will now go to the House, where it failed three times last year by a tie vote. Three delegates who supported voting rights last year have since said they will switch their votes, and the measure's sponsors con- ceded today that their ratification drive continues to face an uphill bat- tle in Maryland.
"We just have to go to work," said Sen. Clarence Mitchell (D-Baltimore), one of the amendment's sponssors, after the Senate vote. Mitchell said there were at least six delegates in the 141-member House who still had not firmly decided their votes this year.
There was no such suspense in the Senate today, where members' votes have remained largely unquestioned during the past months despite the controversies among House members over the meetings of D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy with the Palestine Liberation Organization and other issues.
Almost dutifully, longtime backers and foes of the amendment rose to reiterate their arguments on the issue. "We should pass out Xerox copies of these speeches and be done with it," murmered one senator as the amendment's foremost opponent Sen. Howard Denis (R-Montgomery), explained his constitutional objections once again.
In the end, most of the hour of speeches was ignored by amendment backers as attention and speculation focused on two senators, Peter Bozick (D-Prince George's) and Cornell Dypski (D-Baltimore), whose votes were clearly in doubt.
Dypski supported voting rights last year, but voted against it this session in the Constitutional and Public Law Committee. In the following weeks, he was lobbied heavily by both sides, and neither camp was willing to predict his vote before today's debate.
After some indecision, Dypski voted for the amendmet, and explained afterward that a poll he took of his constituents -- showing they favored the measure by a 52 to 48 margin -- determined his final vote. "I don't usually decide this way," he said, "but I thought it was the only way to go about this one."
Boziick also had voted for the amendment last year, and even spoke for it on the floor. Today, however, the lean, white-haired senator from Camp Springs was so troubled by the issue that he was unable to make a final decision until the amendment had already passed and a confirming roll call of the senators was taken.
After spending most of the debate sitting anxiously at his desk, alternately slipping rings on and off his fingers and gripping his forehead in his hands, Bozick slipped outside the senate chamber and leaned against a wall until the vote was taken.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said minutes before the vote. "The purpose of this bill has just been lost. If I vote one way they call me a racist, and if I vote the other way they call me another kind of racist. I'll just have to say a prayer at the end and do what I hope was right."
One senator who watched Bozick's agonizing rephrased his problem more bluntly: "He would like to go back in his district for the next election having voted both ways on this bill."
In the end, Bozick recorded an "aye" vote for the amendment on the Senate's electronic scoreboard, then removed it. He then passed when the clerk read his name on a roll-call vote, and finally recorded a positive vote only after the 45 other senators present had been called.
As the Senate was voting, two Jewish delegates from Baltimore who voted for the amendment last year reiterated their stance that they will not support the measure this year unless Fauntroy issues a statement critical of the PLO.
The two Democratic delegates, Stephen Sklar and David Shapiro, were the leaders of a group of four Jewish delegates who met with Fauntroy twice last month in an effort to obtain such a statement. Fauntroy originally agreed to draft a statement and report back to the delegates by last week. But after news stories appeared on the arrangement, he held a press conference to denounce their tactics.
The delegates said this afternoon that Fauntroy who did not appear for the Senate's vote, has not yet contacted them. "I'm beginning to feel like maybe he doesn't love me anymore." said Sklar.
Meanwhile, another Baltimore City delegate, Paul Weisengoff, insisted today that he would reverse his support for the voting rights amendment because of published reports that he had promised to work for the amendment in the House in exchange for the support of black House members of a bill permitting jai alai gambling to operate in the state.