In Senate race, it's a matter of style CAMPAIGN 1994

September 04, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The two Democrats running for the state Senate in District 13 are veteran lawmakers with similar political ideologies but widely differing leadership styles.

And in that highly competitive race, style itself has become an issue, as the candidates blast away at each other's approach to the job and debate which approach better serves Howard County.

Del. Virginia M. Thomas of District 13A who is challenging incumbent Sen. Thomas M. Yeager in District 13 insists that her sometimes-aggressive, highly visible technique is more than just style -- and that it produces more results.

The 53-year-old Columbia resident describes herself as a fighter with a long list of achievements in Annapolis. She says she is dedicated to solving community problems, securing money for county projects and passing statewide health legislation.

She charges that Mr. Yeager -- and the Republican-dominated Howard delegation -- has been ineffective in bringing benefits back to Howard. Also, the incumbent either isn't aware of, or hasn't addressed, community concerns in his district, she says.

"If he does so much for constituents, why do people from outside my district ask me to solve a problem [in Mr. Yeager's district]?" Ms. Thomas asks. "Why isn't he around to know what the problems are?"

Mr. Yeager counters by labeling Ms. Thomas a self-promoter who takes more credit for accomplishments than she is due. He says he's effective in a low-key manner, handling constituents' problems through official channels rather than drawing attention through community meetings.

"I probably solve as many constituent problems as she does," says Mr. Yeager, 57, of Fulton. "It's something we all do, but I don't call the press when I do it and have a ceremony with the lights turned on."

The two Democrats are vying to represent a newly redrawn district that includes east Columbia, Highland, Fulton, Guilford, Savage and the Laurel area extending into Prince George's County.

Ms. Thomas represents east Columbia and Guilford.

The Sept. 13 primary winner will face Del. Martin G. Madden, a District 13B Republican who is unopposed for the nomination.

District 13 has 25,758 registered Democrats and 16,228 Republicans.

The two Democrats have served on the Howard delegation for 12 years. But during the past four-year term, Ms. Thomas says she became increasingly frustrated with what she considers the delegation's lack of clout.

The session ended acrimoniously, with several delegation members, including Mr. Yeager, accusing Ms. Thomas of costing the county nearly $2 million for a new high school project by circumventing the delegation and requesting more money for older schools in her district instead.

Ms. Thomas, who secured financing for a school heating and air conditioning project, denies that any money was lost, saying that no projects had been approved or guarantees made by the state board that awards school construction money.

The late-session awards granted for competing school projects statewide are "highly political," Ms. Thomas says. "It's hardball politics at that point. You're either going to get it or someone else will get it for their district."

She claims that she has been more effective in securing money for school projects in her district -- such as roof repairs and additions --than other delegation members, as evidenced by letters from state officials.

Mr. Yeager says Ms. Thomas overestimates her influence. The delegation has always worked as a team, agreeing on priorities for school construction and lobbying state officials, he says. "We've never tried to be self-serving and get projects at the expense of other districts," he says.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a 14B District Republican, agrees with Mr. Yeager, saying that monetary awards are based more on a project's merit than any individual legislator's pull. He says Mr. Yeager is "a delight" to work with, but Ms. Thomas is not.

"Tom Yeager has worked very effectively in a bipartisan fashion within the delegation," Mr. Flanagan says. "Basically Tom is always receptive to ideas and quite candid on where he stands."

Ms. Thomas says delegation members have criticized her for "fighting for people."

"I'm not going to apologize for that. I'll continue to do that. It gets results," she says.

Despite problems within the delegation, Ms. Thomas, who is vice chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, insists that she has earned the admiration of other colleagues and constituents.

"I am a team player in Annapolis," she says. "You can't get bills passed if you can't work within the system."

Adil Shamoo, a Columbia resident and member of Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Maryland, says he was impressed with Ms. Thomas' leading role in the passage of a bill prohibiting discrimination by health insurers against people with mental health or substance abuse problems.

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