Dyson, in tough campaign, relying on outside money

November 01, 1990|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

Writing home from Annapolis to his rural constituents almost 15 winters ago, freshman Del. Roy Dyson displayed the disarming naivete that had won him the hearts and votes of Southern Marylanders during the previous November election.

Dyson, baby-faced and at 25 the youngest member of the General Assembly, was describing his first encounter with special interest groups.

Lobbyists had wined and dined him at a local restaurant, he said in a column published in a local weekly newspaper, and he wasn't wild about the experience.

"I'm still wondering why people with genuine proposals can't present them on their own merits," he wrote with gee-whiz idealism. "I personally do not understand how I can spend an evening with a group of people who are spending hundreds of dollars entertaining me and not feel beholden to them."

Over the next six years, Dyson often complained about the unfair advantage candidates had in elections when outside money filled their coffers.

In 1976 and again in 1980 when he ran against Bob Bauman for the 1st District congressional seat, Dyson chided the Republican incumbent for accepting large sums of money from out-of-state sources.

But that was 15 years ago.

These days, Dyson, who faces a difficult re-election bid for a sixth term in Congress, finds himself leaning heavily upon the largess of out-of-state contributors. So far, according to his campaign finance reports, Dyson has spent more than $385,000 -- much of it raised from special interest groups as diverse as postal employees and confectionery workers -- to win his Democratic primary and to campaign against GOP challenger Wayne Gilchrest in Tuesday's general election.

His close relationship with lobbyists bubbled into a near scandal a year ago when Dyson returned thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions from representatives of defense contractors, including two Unisys Corp. lobbyists who were convicted of bribing Pentagon officials.

Times and tough elections have a way of changing politicians.


If it weren't for overflow growth from nearby Lexington Park and the military's Patuxent Naval Air Test Center, the tiny town of Great Mills would be even smaller than it is today. The St. Mary's County town of about 200 has a video store, a convenience shop, an auto mechanic's garage and, of course, the Dyson family lumber company.

Up the hill from the lumber store is the Dyson home, where Roy, his twin brother, Samuel Lee, and the six other Dyson children grew up.

The Dyson twins attended Great Mills High School, where Roy, remembered as being less bashful than brother Lee, made friends easily.

Jane Hale Sypher, now an assistant principal at the same high school she attended with the Dyson boys, said Roy fit in comfortably with the conservative, rural society of Great Mills.

"I never heard him say a mean or malicious thing about anybody. He was fun-loving and yet he had an innate respect of teachers and his elders," said Sypher.

School friends, citing prevailing moods of the county and Dyson's Catholic upbringing, describe Dyson as conservative except when it came to his support for desegregating public schools. Blacks first attended the high school in the fall of 1967.

After high school, Dyson left the security of family home and business in Great Mills and tried his hand at college, with little success. He attended three -- the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore and Montgomery Junior College -- over a four-year period. But he dropped out without finishing his studies in anthropology and without earning a degree.


Losing his student deferment and facing the possibility of being drafted into the Army, Dyson successfully obtained exemption from military service as a conscientious objector.

When his draft status was made public earlier this year, Dyson, a hawkish member of the House Armed Services Committee, defended his previous anti-war stance, saying, "...I believed it was wrong to draft young men and send them to die in the jungles of Southeast Asia."

Dyson has said nothing publicly about his CO status since August and turned down several opportunities to discuss it and other matters for this article.

After getting CO status, Dyson left Great Mills again, this time venturing to Washington. There he found entry-level work with XTC

the Democratic National Committee and was assigned, along with his new friend, Tony Pappas, to various voter registration and fund-raising efforts on behalf of Democratic candidates about the country.


After the 1972 elections, Dyson joined the staff of Michigan Rep. William D. Ford as a low-paid junior staffer and was assigned to the congressman's subcommittee on Agricultural Labor.

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