Ethics figured in Dyson's political rise, eventual fall

November 07, 1990|By Tom Bowman

It was one of those peculiar ironies of politics: Representative Roy P. Dyson's career on Capitol Hill rose and fell on the heels of scandal and disclosure.

He was a 31-year-old state delegate when he beat former GOP congressman Robert O. Bauman in 1980, after the conservative lawmaker was charged with soliciting sex from a 16-year-old youth several weeks before the 1980 election.

Yesterday, Mr. Dyson's own congressional career was cut short by ethics troubles and perceived deceit: an FBI affidavit that showed he had close ties to defense consultants later convicted of political corruption and his disclosure -- only after news media inquiries -- that he had been a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.

Many political observers believed that Mr. Dyson had successfully rehabilitated himself after his narrow victory over the unknown Mr. Gilchrest in 1988, after the suicide of his chief aide, Thomas M. Pappas, and revelations about his heavy reliance on defense industry contributions.

He worked hard to win back the respect and support of his constituency. But the 11 Democratic and Republican candidates who ran against him this year traversed the district and harped on the congressman's troubles. Even the campaign motto of one candidate was a pointed barb: "a congressman you can be proud of."

Many political observers believed that if Mr. Dyson fell to defeat, it would likely be against his chief Democratic primary opponent, Delegate Barbara O. Kreamer of Harford County. Polls showed him ahead of Ms. Kreamer by a comfortable margin, but his negative scores among voters increased.

In the end, though, the congressman easily defeated her.

But the C.O. status was of better use to Mr. Gilchrest, a Marinecombat veteran in Vietnam who won a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Mr. Gilchrest at first used his Vietnam status in almost subliminal ways, describing himself in TV and radio ads as a "veteran, teacher and family man." But later his campaign was boosted by radio spots with Adrian Cronauer, an armed forces disc jockey portrayed by actor Robin Williams in the movie "Good Morning, Vietnam."

"Wayne Gilchrest is a man of character who answered the call [in Vietnam] and now he's ready to serve his country once more," Mr. Cronauer said in the widely used ad.

Finally, the Vietnam draft status issue tumbled out in a televised debate between the candidates when Mr. Gilchrest snapped: "Did you know that I fought so you'd have freedom to be a C.O.?"

Meanwhile, there was more trouble for Mr. Dyson on the sore topic of special interests.

The October release of an affidavit used in the federal probe of Pentagon corruption included wiretapped calls by Mr. Dyson to defense consultants. In one call, he told a consultant that his amendment "passed and everything's OK," according to the affidavit. The wiretapped calls also included one consultant telling a colleague he had $95,000 on hand, "enough to take care of any Dysons or anything like that."

That also proved a boost to Mr. Gilchrest, a moderate-to-liberal Republican who ran on the platform of "character, morality, integrity."

A Sun Poll taken one week before the election showed that Mr. Gilchrest had pulled ahead of Mr. Dyson.

Mr. Dyson's future in the House had seemed relatively secure prior to 1988.

He was a member of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and the Armed Services Committee, allowing him to keep a close eye on his district's interests, ranging from watermen to defense industries. After his slim 1988 victory he also was able to win a seat on the Agriculture Committee, telling House leaders he needed it to "survive."

As a member of the Merchant Marine Committee, the congressman had opposed a Reagan administration effort to impose Coast Guard user fees and helped attract federal research contracts to the Chesapeake Bay.

On the campaign trail this summer, Mr. Dyson's supporters praised his efforts on behalf of Patuxent River Naval Air Station and the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

During a radio debate with his Democratic challengers in July and again in debates with Mr. Gilchrest, Mr. Dyson reminded his constituents that he brought tens of millions of dollars to both facilities in the past decade. The congressman also boasted that he helped with the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

"He's done a lot for the Shore, for watermen and farmers," noted William Budd, 36, a Democrat in Dorchester County, one of the prime battlegrounds of the contest.

But Mr. Budd also spoke for the many voters who were troubled by the stories of PAC contributions and ties to defense contractors. "I think he's done a lot of favors for himself and other people," said Mr. Budd, who intended to vote for Mr. Gilchrest. "I think he's been there too long."

Others were more harsh. "He doesn't represent the district," said George Melbourn, 84, of Salisbury, "he represents himself."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.