Hutchinson, in wake of missteps, won't seek 2nd term as delegate

May 31, 1994|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Writer

State Del. Leslie Hutchinson, whose political career was blighted by a series of unpaid debts, motor vehicle law violations and ethical missteps, will not seek a second term.

Sharply diminished re-election prospects and family considerations led to the decision, the 32-year-old legislator said last week.

Instead, she will concentrate on rearing her son, completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Baltimore and continuing her search for a job.

"I don't think it's fair to my constituents to do this on their clock," she said.

The election of 1994 once seemed within the grasp of this daughter of a prominent Baltimore County political family. But after her well-publicized travails, supporters and opponents told her she faced immense difficulties in her Essex district.

"Friends said it would be the toughest race in the state, but it could be won. I'd have to knock on 12,000 doors. People are forgiving. I have apologized and come to grips with the reality of my life. I've done my best to take care of things," she said.

She contended she did a good job as a first-term legislator, solving constituents' problems and helping bring projects to the county. But she said she did a poor job of managing her personal affairs and, on that score, she agrees with those who say she does not deserve re-election.

"It's hard when you've done what I've done to go and face people."

During a three-year period after her election in 1990, Ms. Hutchinson:

* Drove her car without proper registration or insurance and put discarded 1970 license plates on her car.

* Was fined $1,500, given a suspended jail term and put on probation for three years for driving with a suspended license and without insurance.

* Failed to appear in court seven times.

* Left her job at the Baltimore County Police Department in 1992 after learning she faced disciplinary action for driving on a suspended license and failing to make good quickly on a bad check.

* Wrote a security deposit check against a defunct political campaign account.

* Failed to pay bills in Annapolis, where angry creditors tried to recoup by billing the state.

* Failed to pay 1991 state income taxes.

* Failed to make car payments, leading to the garnisheeing of her legislative wages.

* Tried to start a business by improperly using her connections as a legislator. That business effort collapsed, she said.

In an interview last week, Ms. Hutchinson discussed her self-inflicted wounds. She said commentators were right when they called her a "flagrant scofflaw." And yet, she said, she was not deliberately putting herself above the law.

Her personal life was "out of control," she said.

Her fall began soon after she was elected. Congratulations poured in. People invited her to make speeches. She was being appointed to important-sounding posts in the General Assembly.

Family of politicians

Her grandfather was Del. Preston A. Hutchinson, a steel worker who used his tavern as successful political base, and her uncle is Donald P. Hutchinson, a former state senator and former Baltimore County executive.

When she left her house in Essex as a child, she said, her parents told her, "Don't forget who you are."

Suddenly, she was an elected official, a winner like her uncle and grandfather. She was a member of the House of Delegates.

"The high was overwhelming. I had grown up in politics so I knew what to expect, but I was completely taken by surprise by the rush of it all," she says. Once in office, she found she could "move the bureaucracy," help people and become a legislative star -- the best ever, she hoped.

Her slide started with pride. Then pride kept it going and made it worse.

At 29, she was the youngest woman elected to the House of Delegates. But she and her son, now 11, were living with her grandmother in a house on Lorraine Avenue in Essex.

"I thought, 'My gosh, how could my constituents possibly respect someone who was still living at home.' My political upbringing taught me that in politics, perception is reality."

She said she wanted people to say, "Look at Les. She's got it together.

"So I went and I moved. That's when everything began to unravel." She took a $650-a-month apartment at Villa Capri, an apartment and condominium development. Within four months she was falling behind on her rent, but she did not move for four months.

She missed automobile insurance payments.

She said she got no child support from her ex-husband. However she had her legislative salary of $28,000 a year and, for a time, income from a job with the Baltimore County Police Department. Despite that, she said, she accumulated debts of about $25,000: child care, automobile payments, clothing, "going here, going there."

"It cost a little money to be a legislator," she said.

To be a big shot?

"If you will," she replied.

Still has debts

She still owes $13,000 to family members who bailed her out. She's back living with her grandmother, hoping to land some work helping candidates with campaign plans.

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