In new 43rd, tough race may be a matter of record CAMPAIGN 1994

August 06, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

In a Northeast Baltimore storefront, state Sen. John A. Pica Jr. sifts through an overflowing stack of his opponent's voting records in the General Assembly, stealing the same strategy that almost cost him his seat four years ago.

Mr. Pica looks solemn as he flips through page after page counting the missed votes of his rival, Del. Curtis S. Anderson. Yet he is clearly pleased by the tally, the ammunition in a plan of attack that he learned all too well from a political novice who nearly proved his nemesis.

Only 44 votes from absentee ballots kept Mr. Pica from losing a 1990 primary battle with Martin O'Malley. Now a Baltimore City Councilman, Mr. O'Malley took on the veteran senator by assailing his poor attendance record at the time with a message that "Change Demands Commitment."

The narrow victory left an anxious Mr. Pica promising that he would "mold a different personality and character." Now, as he runs for a fourth term in the newly redrawn 43rd District, Mr. Pica says he's a changed man.

At his desk covered with the typical notes of complaint about potholes and rodents that politicians get in Baltimore, the tall lawyer says, "I listened to what the voters told me.

"I made a decision to redirect all my energy to my job, and I've worked extremely hard in the past four years. If you look at the number of votes I missed, you would be holding air in your hands."

Senator Pica is campaigning on more than his good attendance, his years of experience and his pledge that "No One Works Harder For The City." He has copied Mr. O'Malley's tactics and aggressively taken on his opponent's voting record in what is becoming one of Baltimore's toughest races.

Mr. Pica faces a strong challenge from Mr. Anderson, a popular black lawyer and former television anchorman who used to represent the old 44th District. The two Democrats will face each other in the Sept. 13 primary election.

Mr. Anderson says he has a good base of support because he grew up in Northeast Baltimore's Wilson Park neighborhood, played football with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at Baltimore City College, graduated from Morgan State University and has lived most of his life in Northwood. Blacks now make up roughly 60 percent -- instead of 26 percent -- of the new 43rd District.

"This district is almost tailor-made for someone like me," he says. "And it needs a representative that will push in areas germane to African-Americans, especially with minority business opportunities."

The district has always been known for the number of homes with campaign signs on their front lawns, says Del. Ann Marie Doory, who is running for re-election in the 43rd with incumbent Dels. Gerald J. Curran and Kenneth C. Montague Jr. And the signs show a hard-to-call Senate contest.

"It's going to be very close," Ms. Doory predicts. "I think, after the last time, Pica kind of saw the light, and he has a good organization. Anderson has name recognition from his years on TV, and he is a personable guy."

Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, a former City Council member who represented the same area, says the candidates have some of the same strengths and weaknesses.

Both have been in the legislature a long time, have loyal followers and are experienced campaigners, he says. Mr. Pica served in the House one term and 12 years in the Senate, while Mr. Anderson has been a delegate since 1982.

But the very fact that Mr. Pica only hung on by a thin margin four years ago creates "a perception that he is weak," while Mr. Anderson has not been as visible at community meetings and "some people have a hard time taking him seriously," Mr. Landers points out.

"It's kind of interesting -- on the one hand both have loyal followings," he says. "But when you get to the fringes, in terms of support,

there is a kind of lack of enthusiasm."

But there's no shortage of enthusiasm among the supporters of either candidate.

Mr. Pica, 42, is spending all the money and energy he can on the campaign. He's hired Art Murphy, brother of prominent Baltimore attorney William H. Murphy Jr., as a political consultant, and every afternoon he bounds up the steps of rowhouses, trailed by his troops.

Mr. Anderson, 44, acknowledges he has less money to spend. But he has his family and supporters, who get up at dawn three mornings a week to stand at major thoroughfares and wave at commuters.

As he knocks on doors and calls community associations, Mr. Pica has been hitting hard on Mr. Anderson's attendance record. His opponent, he says, missed 1,146 votes on the House floor and in committee meetings since 1990.

Mr. Pica, who is busy collecting thousands of pages of roll-call records from Annapolis, calls it a "dismal record" and proof of "someone who is not serious about his job."

For his part, Mr. Anderson says he has been more than diligent and his record reflects it.

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