Arnick's fervent fans condemn themselves

WILEY A. HALL

February 16, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

I don't often feel embarrassed or ashamed on behalf of politicians, no matter how asinine their behavior. If politicians want to play the fool, that's their affair. Voters, after all, have an absolute veto over asinine behavior, and Election Day is an excellent time for weeding out clowns.

But a legislative committee's passionate support last week for former Del. John S. Arnick's appointment to the Baltimore County District Court leaves me deeply ashamed -- nay, even contemptuous -- of some of Maryland's political leaders. And the fact that Mr. Arnick asked late yesterday that his nomination be temporarily suspended, pending investigation of the allegations against him, doesn't lessen my dismay. I find it contemptible that he collected so much support to begin with.

Mr. Arnick was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee last year when Judy A. Wolfer, a Takoma Park lawyer, and Nancy J. Nowak, an aide to Governor Schaefer, sought Mr. Arnick's support over dinner for a domestic violence bill that was then before that committee.

Before dinner, according to the women, Mr. Arnick greeted them with a string of offensive and racist jokes at the expense of Poles, Jews and African Americans. During dinner, he referred to his two guests as "bitches" and "bimbos." And he described victims of spouse abuse as "lying bitches" and using a vulgar term for a woman's vagina. After dinner and until this day, the women say Mr. Arnick never apologized for, or acknowledged in any way, their concerns about his language, though they say they later talked with him about it.

Despite this testimony, the Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted 14 to 4 to confirm Mr. Arnick's appointment. Most of the senators on the committee made it clear that they believed the allegations, but they just didn't think it mattered when measured against the Dundalk lawyer's "sterling career."

A number of my fellow newspaper columnists here and in Washington have expressed the view these past few days that Mr. Arnick's alleged behavior, if true, suggests he is unfit for the bench. This is true. Manifestly true. But I also question the fitness for office of some of Mr. Arnick's supporters. If nothing else, they are condemned by the ardency of their admiration. They are a confederation of dunces.

For instance, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. voted for Mr. Arnick's confirmation in committee and has said he probably would vote for him later, adding, "I think the totality of the circumstances have to be considered, his life and all the good things he's done over 30 years in supporting women's causes." (Yesterday a lobbyist for one such cause was at a loss to recall the 30 years of good works on behalf of women.)

Governor Schaefer, who appointed Mr. Arnick to the bench Jan. 27, told a reporter -- apparently without intending any irony -- that he believed the allegations but nevertheless was impressed with Mr. Arnick's "attitudes toward the bar" and "his attitudes toward people."

Even Sen. Nancy Murphy, D-Balto. Co., rushed to support her colleague.

"I come to you tonight as a woman, a legislator, and a person who really knows John Arnick," Senator Murphy told the nominations committee shortly after Ms. Wolfer's testimony. "I really regret that the opponent who spoke before me really doesn't know John Arnick. His credentials are impeccable." Later, Senator Murphy described Mr. Arnick's alleged behavior as "an aberration."

Meanwhile, a caucus of women legislators discussed the issue last week but decided not to withdraw an endorsement made before the allegations were made public.

And, in interviews over the weekend, one legislator after another defended Mr. Arnick's behavior on grounds that he is "from the old school" -- and that is the way graduates of the old school express themselves. Some legislators even theorized that this was Mr. Arnick's way of seeing if the women lobbyists could "take it." Others conceded that the good old boy from Dundalk is often coarse, but they balance his coarse behavior against his effectiveness as an Annapolis powerbroker.

Obviously, the place needs to be fumigated. Election Day is an excellent time to do it.

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