Steinberg fires anti-crime salvo

January 11, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Staff Writer

On the West Baltimore street corner where his uncle was murdered a quarter-century ago, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg declared his candidacy for governor yesterday and pledged to wage a multipronged war on crime.

"In every part of the state, people have come to fear crime and senseless violence," he said. "Its numbing frequency and the fear it carries robs all of us of the peace of mind and security that is the first principle of a free society."

Standing beside a boarded-up store at the intersection of Fulton Avenue and Laurens Street where his uncle, Israel Steinberg, died in 1968, Mr. Steinberg sounded tough anti-crime themes similar to those of his Democratic and Republican rivals.

"I stand on this corner, where violent crime affected my family, to say that we don't have to live with this anymore," the Baltimore County Democrat said.

Mr. Steinberg spoke of several issues in his announcement address -- including economic development, ethics in government and education -- but primarily emphasized what he called "the No. 1 issue," public safety.

Accompanied by his wife, Anita, and son Edward, a Baltimore lawyer, he outlined an anti-crime agenda that included the following key elements:

* Abolition of parole for violent offenders. Mr. Steinberg promised a search for innovative approaches and cooperation with the federal government and other states to reduce the increased costs likely to be associated with such action, though he offered no specific funding plan yesterday.

"We can build prisons in some of the more rural areas in conjunction with other states," he said. "I believe our schools have to be conveniently located. Our hospitals should be conveniently located. But our jails don't have to be conveniently located."

* Revamping of the state's juvenile justice system. He would retain programs for early intervention but impose severe penalties on violent youthful offenders.

He also proposed treating juveniles caught with guns in school as adults under the law.

* Support for an ambitious package of gun control measures promoted by Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, including state police issuance of licenses for handgun owners that would be similar to driver's licenses with photo identification.

To qualify for the license under the measure advocated by the gun control group, applicants would have to pass a police background check and an examination testing their knowledge of handgun safety and risks.

"Individuals need a license to drive and even a license to cut hair and a license to give a manicure," Mr. Steinberg said. "Shouldn't people need a license for a handgun?"

Other legislation on the Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse wish list includes a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and the closing of what Mr. Steinberg called "a glaring loophole" in the law that allows a person who passes a police background check to buy a weapon, then sell it privately, at a profit, to a third party not subjected to the same restrictions.

Vinnie DeMarco, executive director of the gun control group, welcomed Mr. Steinberg's declaration of support. "The lieutenant governor's announcement is further evidence of the groundswell for our proposal," he said.

Mr. DeMarco said that two other Democratic gubernatorial candidates -- East Baltimore state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski and Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County -- had already endorsed the organization's legislative goals.

Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, the fourth Democratic hopeful, is an honorary co-chairman of the gun control group and generally supports the group's goals, but he is still studying the specifics of the group's legislative package, said Brian Morton, his campaign press secretary.

The lieutenant governor was announcing his candidacy during a two-day campaign swing that took him yesterday from the city to several suburban counties in the Baltimore and Washington areas -- Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. He is to be on the Eastern Shore and in Southern and Western Maryland today.

In Prince George's, he made his anti-crime pitch in front of a home identified by police as a crack house. He denied, in response to questions, that the location was chosen to embarrass Mr. Glendening.

"I picked Baltimore City for a murder scene," he said.

Mr. Steinberg, 60, has been in state politics since 1966, when he was elected to the state Senate from Pikesville. He served five consecutive terms, the final four years as Senate president.

In 1986 and 1990, he was Gov. William Donald Schaefer's running mate, a political marriage that worked well during the first term but was on the rocks within months of their landslide re-election victory.

Mr. Steinberg balked in 1991 at Mr. Schaefer's proposal for a sweeping and costly overhaul of the state tax code, speaking publicly against it. In retaliation, the governor stripped Mr. Steinberg of virtually all of his duties within the administration.

Frozen out of the action -- "iced" in the irreverent argot of the State House -- Mr. Steinberg has been consigned to little more than ceremonial duties for the past three years, even during the annual General Assembly sessions, during which he previously had been a major player on behalf of the administration.

Nevertheless, he timed the announcement of his candidacy to coincide with the gathering of legislators in Annapolis for the 90-day General Assembly session that begins tomorrow.

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