Contrasts mark Democrats in state's attorney race

August 14, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

The Democratic primary for Howard County state's attorney is a race of contrasts between a self-described political outsider and a 17-year veteran with the county prosecutor's office.

Dario Joseph Broccolino, executive director of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association, will meet Michael Allen Weal, chief of the county state's attorney's District Court division, in the Sept. 13 primary.

The winner will face one of two Republicans -- Marna Lynn McLendon or Joseph Fleischmann II -- in November's general election in the race to become the county's top law-enforcement official.

State's Attorney William R. Hymes, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election after four four-year terms.

Mr. Weal was endorsed by the Columbia Democratic Club last month. The Ellicott City Democratic Club will vote to endorse a candidate Aug. 30.

George Layman, president of the Columbia club, said Mr. Weal's experience as a prosecutor and his involvement in Democratic programs made him the favored candidate among the group's 178 members.

"With his background, I think [the members] felt comfortable with him," Mr. Layman said. "Dario just came in late. I don't think most people know him."

Mr. Weal, who has been campaigning since June 1993, acknowledged that Mr. Broccolino's last-minute filing of candidacy papers with the county Board of Elections caught him off guard.

The 48-year-old Ellicott City resident said Mr. Broccolino's candidacy has caused him to shift resources budgeted for the general election to the primary.

Saying fund-raising is the "most distasteful thing of the whole process," Mr. Weal said he's planning a fund-raising event or a letter-writing campaign to get more contributions before the primary.

Mr. Weal, supported by about 80 volunteers, expects to spend about $40,000 on a campaign that includes cable television spots, newspaper advertisements and brochures.

Mr. Broccolino, calling himself the dark-horse candidate, said he will focus on visiting shopping centers and going door-to-door to meet voters. He also is planning some advertising and brochures.

A 50-year-old resident of Ellicott City, Mr. Broccolino said he doesn't plan to do much fund-raising. Instead, he will rely on loans and contributions from friends.

Mr. Weal has two prosecutors -- Michael Rexroad, chief of the office's Circuit Court division, and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell -- heading his campaign. They are to be Mr. Weal's deputies if he is elected.

Mr. Broccolino criticized Mr. Weal for injecting politics into the office by having prosecutors involved in his campaign.

"I just see no place for that within an active prosecutor's office," said Mr. Broccolino, who would prefer state's attorneys to be appointed like judges.

Mr. Weal said Mr. Rexroad, Ms. O'Donnell and other supporters on the office's 55-member staff do campaign work on their own time -- not county time.

He contends that Mr. Broccolino is too out of touch with Howard's criminal-justice system to manage the state's attorney's office.

He noted that Mr. Broccolino has never handled a case in the county.

"You just can't come in cold and be expected to operate things," Mr. Weal said. "He is so far removed."

Mr. Broccolino countered that his 17 years as a Baltimore prosecutor in murder, fraud and child abuse cases makes him the best candidate for state's attorney.

He questioned whether Mr. Weal will be adept at prosecuting felony cases in Circuit Court, noting that prosecutors in District Court don't handle jury trials or serious crimes.

Mr. Broccolino and Mr. Weal differ on numerous issues, ranging from how they would expand victim-witness assistance programs to how they would manage daily operations.

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On crime and justice, Mr. Broccolino said he wants to work with judges and defense attorneys to streamline the county's court systems so cases go to trial more quickly.

"We can't keep doing things the way we've been doing them," he said. "The state's attorney's office has to take the lead."

Prosecutors will review cases early to make sure there is enough evidence to proceed to trial, Mr. Broccolino said. He said cases that are too weak to prove in court will be dropped so they don't clog the system.

He said he intends to limit plea bargains and require that repeat offenders serve time in prison as part of their sentences.

Mr. Broccolino and Mr. Weal favor expanding the county's Diversion Program, which permits first-time drug and alcohol offenders to seek counseling to avoid prosecution. They say the program should encompass other minor offenses.

Mr. Weal vowed that, under his management, the office would aggressively prosecute cases involving violent crimes and repeat offenders.

"That's got to be the No. 1 aspect of anyone's administration," he said. "We're here to be aggressive. We're not going to give in. We're not going to give way."

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