His friends have a new nickname these days for Montgomery County State Sen. Laurence Levitan: "Larry the Cat."
"He doesn't have nine lives," said one legislator, "he's got 10."
In truth, it has been a long year for the two-term state senator, the chairman of the Senate Budget and Tax Committee. Consider:
* During the Democratic primary he was accused by his opponent of trying to set up said opponent by sending him an alluring, nubile woman who allegedly offered herself to him. Hearing the accusation, Levitan said: "He turned her down? He must be a Man of Steel."
* In a one-week period in May Levitan's law offices burned to the ground, a neighbor chopping down a tree accidentally felled it in Levitan's yard (killing seven pine trees) and Levitan's daughter's car caught fire under the hood while while being driven to an inspection.
* At various times he has found himself opposing Robin Ficker, the Statehouse's resident gadfly; Anthony Pucca, the primary opponent who accused him of sending the woman; Allan C. Levey, the chairman of the state Republican Party; and Melvin A. Steinberg, his seat mate and closest friend in the Senate, who was willing to give away Levitan's chairmanship in his quest for the Senate presidency.
"It has been a long year," Levitan said this week. "I've gotten mad a few times. I got mad at Pucca and I got mad at Mickey (Steinberg). But I worked hard and tried to keep my sense of humor. You've got to keep your sense of humor."
Levitan's humor received its most severe test in September, when word leaked out that Steinberg had cut a deal with the Baltimore City delegation that would have moved Budget and Tax Committee vice chairman Clarence Blount into Levitan's chairmanship in January.
With rumors rampant that he would be replaced--assuming he survived his November election fight with Republican Levey--Levitan walked into a meeting of the legislative leadership in Annapolis and said, "Okay, everybody who's been offered my chairmanship raise your hand."
Later that day Levitan handed out a newspaper headline that he described as the title of his upcoming autobiography. The headline: "Life After Power."
But, somehow, Levitan survived everything. When the legislature convenes in January, regardless of who wins the bitter battle for the Senate presidency between Steinberg and incumbent James Clark Jr., Levitan will have his chairmanship and his palatial office, the largest and most lavish in Annapolis.
"I don't think I could face going back to Annapolis without my office," Levitan said, laughing. "I mean, if it wasn't for having to give up my office I might run for Senate president. But I don't know if I could handle working in an office as small as Jim Clark's."
Levitan's year of survival actually began last Christmas, when Pucca announced at the Montgomery County Democrats' Christmas party that he was going to run against Levitan in the primary.
"I had been thinking before then that I'd like to have a primary," Levitan said. "I only won the general by about 3,000 votes in 1978 and I thought part of the problem was that I didn't have a primary so I didn't have to crank up until September. When Tony announced he was running, I thought, 'Hmmm, this must be Christmas.' "
Then there was the Ficker question. The Democrat-turned-Independent-turned-Republican was known in the legislature as a constant nuisance but also as the most tireless campaigner around. If he decided to oppose Levitan it would have meant a tough, arduous campaign. Throughout the legislative session, Levitan's colleagues constantly asked him what he was doing socializing after the day's work was done. "After all," they would say, "Robin's out door-knocking."
Ficker decided at the last moment not to oppose Levitan. That opened the door for Levey, who had a good deal of name recognition because he was party chairman. First though, Levitan had to survive a primary campaign that was so vicious it earned mention in The Wall Street Journal.
"I really was caught unprepared," Levitan said. "I lost a lot of sleep because of Tony Pucca."
He beat Pucca by 56 percent to 44 percent and moved on to the general election. Then, in the middle of that campaign, came word that Steinberg had promised Levitan's chairmanship to Baltimore Sen. Clarence W. Blount in return for the city's support in Steinberg's bid to unseat Clark.
Levitan got on the phones, talking to the city's legislators, talking to Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist about the importance of Montgomery retaining its only Senate chairmanship. When the dust cleared, Blount, who wasn't sure he wanted the chairmanship, had backed off and Levitan had his title -- and his spacious office -- back.
That left Levey. As it turned out, the attention Levitan received because of the chairmanship fight gave him a boost and he defeated Levey by about 2,500 votes, a small but comfortable margin.
"I think the chairmanship fight might have been the difference," Levey said. "A lot of Democrats who might have voted for me otherwise were made aware of the power Larry wielded for the county in Annapolis and they ended up voting for him."
So now Levitan approaches Thanksgiving '82 feeling thankful to end this year right where he was a year ago.