Hutchinson's relatives taught her about politics Family was active in Democratic Party

July 19, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

The Hutchinsons of Essex were weaned on politics by Preston A. Hutchinson, the family patriarch, a steel worker who used his tavern as a base for his street-level political work.

But the political roots sunk into Preston's two sons, Donald and P. David, and later into David's daughter, Leslie, have developed in two very different ways.

David, the older son, grew to be a promoter, a salesman, a deal maker, an old-style political operative who, as an aide to former county executive Theodore G. Venetoulis in the mid-1970s, seemed to jump from one public controversy to another. He later experienced a religious conversion and dropped out of public life.

Donald P. Hutchinson's path was different. He was the young, college-educated reformer, free from the kind of ethically sticky controversies that dogged his older brother's public life. For the eight years Donald was Baltimore County executive, brother David was viewed as a potential Billy Carter, and his name was rarely mentioned in Towson.

"Dave and Don had two distinct political personalities," said former county executive and Essex legislator Dennis F. Rasmussen. David helped invent "The Great Baltimore County Fair" of 1976-77, which he billed as the greatest on the East Coast.

It lost $400,000 the first year, when attendance was low, security guards quit, vendors threatened to follow suit and angry politicians demanded an end to county subsidies. Later came controversies over David Hutchinson's salary as fair president and his travel budget, followed by the fair's demise in 1978.

In 1980, a new fuss erupted over David Hutchinson's interest in an Eastern Boulevard tavern. He became part owner of the place in 1977, two years before he applied to have his name added to the liquor license. County board rules prohibit secret owners, and the bar was ordered closed for five days as punishment in 1980 -- by a liquor board appointed by Donald P. Hutchinson.

Leslie Hutchinson cut her political teeth as a hard-working 13-year-old volunteer in her uncle Donald's seminal 1974 campaign for the state Senate. That year he led a youthful ticket of reformers, allied with the countywide Venetoulis effort, which together finally broke the powerful East Side Democratic political machine that for years had dominated county politics -- and which had given all the Hutchinsons their start in public life.

Ms. Hutchinson inherited the family interest in local government and politics handed down from her grandfather, said State Sen. Michael J. Collins of Essex, who taught her 11th grade American history at Kenwood High School.

Senator Collins met Don Hutchinson in 1962, when Mr. Hutchinson was president of the Kenwood student council. In 1963, Mr. Collins taught history to Dennis Rasmussen, and 11 years later he and Mr. Rasmussen won seats in the Maryland House of Delegates for the first time as members of Don Hutchinson's reform ticket. Mr. Rasmussen later moved to the Senate, and was elected county executive to follow Mr. Hutchinson in 1986.

Ms. Hutchinson "was a typical student" in most ways, Senator Collins recalled last week, except that she had a "keen interest" in local politics and government.

She never lost that interest, and before her election to the House of Delegates in 1990, she served four years on the county's Democratic central committee, joined a handful of East Side political clubs, and was a delegate to the 1988 Democratic presidential convention.

She ran alone in 1990, not a part of the party ticket. Helped by her popular last name, she defeated the incumbent, R. Terry Connelly. She remained alone after the election, keeping a separate district legislative office across Eastern Avenue from the one shared by her three General Assembly colleagues.

Although no county political figures had a bad word to say about Ms. Hutchinson publicly last week, they were not surprised by her troubles.

From the day after the November 1990 election, the smiling, friendly campaign personality was gone, several East Side political figures said, replaced by a "bull in a china closet" who would not seek or take advice from her elders, and who lived beyond her means.

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