Challenger seeks to reverse upset of '86 in P.G. state's attorney contest

October 18, 1990|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Sun Staff Correspondent

UPPER MARLBORO -- For most of his adult life, Arthur A. "Bud" Marshall was not just state's attorney for Prince George's County, he was the law. The post was not just a job for him; it was who he was.

Four years ago, a young black attorney named Alexander Williams Jr. stripped Mr. Marshall of that identity when he defeated the six-term incumbent in a landmark upset victory, the first countywide black official elected to office in the white-dominated county.

Life since that loss for Mr. Marshall, 59, has consisted of running a small law practice and the problems that go with it, like paying the rent and getting the office computer repaired -- marking time as an lawyer. He's hoping that voters will end his exile on Nov. 6 and return him to the state's attorney's office.

"It became a life," he said. "I used to tell the attorneys when I hired them that you're on the side of apple pie, motherhood, the American flag, that it's your job to do good. I thought I did good. I don't feel the same about the practice of law."

Mr. Williams, 42, who 17 years ago worked in Mr. Marshall's office as a law clerk, said the attitude thatthe state's attorney's office was Mr. Marshall's "job" was one of the things wrong with the office in the past.

"He has been going around saying, 'I want to get my old job back,' and I have been taking him to task on that," Mr. Williams said. "It's not his job. It belongs to the people. We are privileged to serve as citizens."

The battle for that privilege has been the most interesting race in an otherwise uneventful election year in Prince George's County.

Since his loss in the primary in 1986, Mr. Marshall has been waiting for his shot at Mr. Williams, who plays a special role as the highest-ranking black official in a county where whites control the political apparatus, despite a growing black population.

Mr. Marshall, who switched to the Republican Party in June, has been running an aggressive campaign against Mr. Williams, trying to paint the incumbent as ambitious, free-spending and more concerned with image than results.

"In the state's attorney's office, our budget was $3.2 million four years ago," Mr. Marshall said. "It's now $5.5 million. I've criticized him because he's got a couple of bodyguards. I've criticized him because he's got a chauffeur, that he has a press secretary, an appointment secretary -- I mean I thought I was dealing with George Bush or someone like that when you try to talk to people up in his office."

Those charges infuriate Mr. Williams, who calls them "lies, mean-spirited distorting personal attacks on my integrity and not dealing with the issues."

He said he does not have a chauffeur or bodyguards. "At night, when I visit this place or that, usually I take one of my investigators around, and they have guns, and they alternate. They are not getting paid for night or weekend work. And they may be driving. But they don't function as a driver. They are investigators, and sometimes I ask them to accompany me."

One issue that Mr. Marshall has called Mr. Williams on is the incumbent's handling of the May 1989 death of Gregory Habib, a 37-year-old black man who died after a confrontation with four white county police officers.

Mr. Williams said a grand jury investigation into the death that cleared three of the officers of any wrongdoing did not go far enough, and he said he was declaring war on "those few renegades and cowboys" in the department.

A state prosecutor's investigation also exonerated the officers, and the incident resulted in bitter debate in the county between the police and minority representatives who have contended that the department had historically engaged in brutality.

Mr. Marshall said the Habib case illustrates the differences between the two candidates in how the office should be run. "Alex puts himself in the middle of those sort of issues, and I don't think that's his role," he said. "I think you have to make up your mind that you're on the side of the angels and go out and fight for them."

Mr. Williams called the Habib case "the most difficult of my administration, I admit that. It tore the county apart, but we learned from it. There hasn't been a Habib case since."

Mr. Marshall has portrayed himself as an unquestioning ally of the police and has indicated that nothing like the Habib rift would occur under his administration. "I think that's a major issue in this campaign. I think Alex has a completely different philosophy as to law enforcement. I felt I was on the side of the police."

But Mr. Williams said he has the support of many among the police, and he points out that while the police union representing county officers has not endorsed him, it has also not endorsed Mr. Marshall.

"If the police officers loved him, they would have given him their support," Mr. Williams said.

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