Miedusiewski woos D.C. suburbs CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

August 02, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

SILVER SPRING -- American Joe Miedusiewski, decked out in white shirt, tie and tasseled loafers, kicked off a weeklong effort yesterday to persuade Montgomery County voters that he's not just a great name, but a credible candidate for governor, too.

"American's your first name?" asked a puzzled David H. Hill, regional service manager at Dixie Temporaries, as he looked over the campaign brochure that the state senator from blue-collar East Baltimore had just handed him.

Replied Mr. Miedusiewski, unfazed: "It's a handle I hope people will not forget."

"Catchy name," deadpanned Mr. Hill.

Mr. Miedusiewski (pronounced Med-a-SHEF-ski) was in affluent Montgomery County to enhance his appeal in the suburban Washington area and to let voters know that he is not "someone in a sleeveless shirt polishing up his bowling ball," as pollster Brad Coker recently said many people think when they hear his name.

Greeting people, Mr. Miedusiewski, born Joseph Francis Miedusiewski, identified himself as a college graduate, a moderate-to- conservative Democrat, a veteran and a small businessman who has served in the General Assembly for two decades.

As he frequently explains, he took his father's and grandfather's nickname, which is also the name of his parents' Canton tavern, when he first ran for office in 1974 because nearly everyone in the district knew the name American Joe.

Mr. Miedusiewski, 44, plans to spend the week hoofing it through Montgomery County, a 30-mile trek from the District of Columbia line to the county's northern border with Frederick County.

"This week we're going to immerse ourselves in the Montgomery County mind-set," he said as he stepped off on the first leg. "I want to hear what Montgomery countians have on their minds."

During his five-day walking tour, Mr. Miedusiewski hopes to give voters in the state's most populous county some reasons to cast their Democratic primary ballot for him, rather than for the front-runner, Parris N. Glendening.

The most recent independent poll, published two weeks ago, showed Mr. Glendening commanding the support of 65 percent of Democratic voters in suburban Washington. Mr. Miedusiewski had just 3 percent.

Mr. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive, leads the Democratic field by a solid 22 percentage points statewide, but Mr. Miedusiewski's campaign has started to strike some sparks.

Coming from behind

In the July poll of likely Democratic voters, Mr. Miedusiewski surged from 7 percent to 16 percent, moving into second place. State Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery was running third. Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg dropped to fourth after months of campaign upheavals punctuated by a fiasco surrounding his efforts to find a running mate.

Mr. Miedusiewski has also garnered valuable free publicity through a series of low-budget radio attack ads in which he has ridiculed the professorial Mr. Glendening for allegedly puffing up his resume and promising more than he can deliver without raising taxes.

Last week Gov. William Donald Schaefer agreed to arrange a fund-raiser for Mr. Miedusiewski and pronounced him a viable candidate, though he stopped short of an endorsement.

And yesterday, Mr. Miedusiewski found himself with a sizable press entourage for the first time in the campaign as a dozen reporters, photographers and television cameramen trailed in his wake.

"It's a long shot, but he's going to give Parris fits," said Blair Lee IV, a newspaper columnist and developer. "Parris is the perfect foil for Joe's campaign. Parris comes across as the guy who flunked you in economics."

Out on busy Georgia Avenue, an enthusiastic volunteer in an Orioles baseball cap was waving a red, white and blue "Miedusiewski for Governor" sign at passing motorists.

"He cares, he cares, Miedusiewski for governor," shouted Anthony Juarez, a 24-year-old ex-Marine. The candidate said he opposed the planned intercounty connector road, which would link Gaithersburg in Montgomery to Laurel in Prince George's, thus relieving much of the east-west congestion on the Capital Beltway but -- according to opponents -- ripping through waterways and communities in its path.

He also said that as governor he would not have the state resume paying Social Security taxes for teachers, librarians and community college workers, a 1992 budgetary change that costs Montgomery nearly $30 million a year.

More for schools

But he did promise help for the county's rapidly expanding school system, saying he would double the $21.6 million the county is scheduled to receive from the state this year to build new schools, freeing the money by delaying and possibly killing other, unspecified projects.

Mr. Miedusiewski's first day took him from the district line to the Wheaton Metro station, about five miles. The initial mile gave him a view of Montgomery at odds with the county's upscale image: empty buildings, a murder site, struggling store front businesses.

"They have an attack dog in there protecting them," he said in a tone of wonder as he emerged from an auto accessories store at East-West Highway and Georgia Avenue.

He made some new friends along the way, including Ernest J. Hazell, who shot a game of pool with him at Champions Billiards.

"I'm a straight shooter," said Mr. Miedusiewski.

After a close game, Mr. Hazell sank the 8-ball and, by mistake, the cue ball -- which meant Mr. Miedusiewski won. Bill Clinton, while campaigning for president, won a game at American Joe's bar the same way. Mr. Hazell, Mr. Miedusiewski said, had just been "Clintoned."

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