Levitan may challenge Miller for post of Senate president

May 06, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

Eight months before the next legislative session, a top lieutenant to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. already is talking about overthrowing his boss.

Sen. Laurence Levitan, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said yesterday that "it is pretty definite at this point" hTC that he will challenge Mr. Miller for the Senate presidency, one of the three most powerful jobs in Annapolis.

Mr. Levitan said, however, he will not make a "fully public statement" about his intentions until he discusses the idea one more time with Mr. Miller, a fellow Democrat and longtime friend.

Mr. Levitan said he believes the Maryland Senate is ready for a change in leadership after eight consecutive years under Mr. Miller.

"Eight years is too long to be president," said Mr. Levitan, a 60-year-old lawyer from Montgomery County.

If his colleagues want him to lead them, he said, he would bring a more open style to the job and strengthen ties with the House of Delegates.

Mr. Levitan has been chairman of the budget committee for the past 16 years -- too long to stay in the same position, he said.

Senator Miller, 51, a lawyer from Prince George's County, said yesterday that he is not convinced that Mr. Levitan will challenge him. But he is taking the threat to his power seriously.

"I would take anyone's candidacy seriously. Being president of the Senate is a very volatile position," he said.

If history is any judge, Mr. Miller may be vulnerable to a challenge. In this century only one senator, William S. James, has been president for more than eight years.

Mr. Miller said he is focusing on his campaign for re-election to the Senate. Voters must send him back to Annapolis before he

can ask his fellow senators to select him as their president again.

"Talk about being speaker of the House or president of the Senate is really premature at this time," Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Levitan himself faces a serious challenge to his seat from Republican Jean W. Roesser, 63, a two-term delegate with a reputation as a vigorous campaigner.

When asked if his ambition to be Senate president would help his re-election campaign, Mr. Levitan replied, "I don't think I'm hurting it. I'm confident I can win re-election."

He said he decided to focus on the Senate presidency now because he was afraid that contest would be settled before he could toss his hat into the ring.

"Mike is a very savvy politician and if I don't start moving early, it could be all locked up before I have a chance to enter the race," Mr. Levitan said. "What I was concerned about was that the election for leadership of the Senate would be over before I had a chance to concentrate on it."

Delegate Roesser, however, said Mr. Levitan is being presumptuous. "It's a desperate move on his part to make this move this early. It's very premature."

She said it will be difficult for any one would-be president to lock up votes from fellow senators because so many of them are retiring or facing uphill election battles.

In the session that ended last month, Mr. Miller and Mr. Levitan disagreed publicly over a proposed cigarette tax and a bill that would have helped doctors who are not part of health maintenance organizations. (Mr. Levitan supported both.)

At one point, Mr. Miller addressed Mr. Levitan as the "former chairman" of the budget committee.

Mr. Miller downplayed their disagreements, saying they continue to be good friends: "I've been to the wedding of his daughter, the bar mitzvahs of his kids."

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