Clay's spending, residency and past become issues in 40th District race CAMPAIGN 1994 40TH LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT

September 07, 1994|By Harold Jackson | Harold Jackson,Sun Staff Writer

Depending on who's talking, Robert Clay is either a "positive role model for youth" or a "tragedy" waiting to happen. Either way, he is a controversial figure running for a House of Delegates seat in Baltimore's 40th District.

Mr. Clay, the owner of a successful construction business, is one of 12 Democrats vying for one of the district's three delegate seats in the Sept. 13 primary election.

The candidate is waging a vigorous campaign punctuated by radio ads, lots of lawn signs and a legion of campaign workers. Campaign finance reports show that Mr. Clay's bid is fueled by nearly $135,000 -- much of it from his own pockets -- as he quests for a seat that pays about $28,000 annually.

The Clay blitz has sent shudders through some of the other candidates in the field and left others bristling. His campaign treasury is about four times bigger than Del. Tony E. Fulton's and about nine times that of Del. Salima Siler Marriott. Only one incumbent, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, has raised anywhere near as much money as Mr. Clay.

Sparked by Mr. Clay's bankroll, some of his detractors have accused him of trying to buy the delegate seat and others have called him a carpetbagger.

The Clay campaign also is dogged by whispers about the candidate's past. Mr. Clay was charged in two shooting incidents -- including a slaying. He was acquitted in one case, and charges were dropped in the other.

"He's spending a lot of money, but it would be a tragedy if this became a popularity contest and he won because he's spending so much to get his name out there," said Mr. Fulton.

But Mr. Clay maintains he's only spending the money necessary to wage an effective campaign.

"People are out there saying I'm trying to buy this election, trying to impress people with how much money I can spend, putting up big billboards. I don't have any billboards," he said. "I have knocked on every door in the district, most of them twice."

Asked about the shootings, Mr. Clay didn't have much to say.

"I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "If a person is innocent and the courts say he is innocent, leave it at that."

Mr. Clay, who in 1989 was honored by WEBB radio as a "positive role model for youth," has been very successful in the construction industry, primarily as an excavator in huge projects such as the Veterans Administration building, the Fort McHenry Tunnel and expansion of the CIA headquarters.

His candidacy is not being ignored by incumbents who say Mr. Clay is spending a bundle on campaign signs alone.

"He's putting up signs everywhere," Mr. Fulton said, "on vacant buildings, in yards and other places where he hasn't gotten permission."

According to campaign finance reports, Mr. Clay lent his own campaign $123,000 in six installments between mid-March and mid-July. Those loans accounted for 90 percent of the $134,951 his campaign had raised by early August, reports show. The rest came from $8,920 in fund-raising tickets and $3,031 in contributions.

Mr. Rawlings had raised $113,093 by that time, reports show. But the bulk of that money -- $90,550 -- came from fund-raising tickets and contributions, and none came from loans.

Other candidates had raised considerably less. Mr. Fulton, for example, had raised $31,130 and Ms. Marriott had collected $14,560.50, including $400 of her own money. Among those challenging the incumbents, Lisa B. Williams had raised $11, 334, all from contributors and the sale of fund-raising tickets.

Mr. Clay spent $70,100.99 of his money as of early August, records show. Of that, $31,028.23 went for campaign literature, including his ubiquitous posters. He also spent $10,729.40 on media advertising, including nearly $4,000 on radio ads.

Mr. Rawlings, who is seeking his fifth term, said Mr. Clay has the money to hire many campaign workers, who have made sure he has a visible presence in the district.

Voter sophistication

"And we notice his signs are progressively improving in quality," Mr. Rawlings said. "But 40th District voters are too sophisticated to be swayed by all that."

Mr. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that with the addition of the Bolton Hill and Charles Village neighborhoods to the 40th, "we find that the number of sophisticated voters in the district is increasing. They will see through Clay."

Mr. Clay has been a resident of Laurel most of his life, but he contends that for nearly two years he has been living in a first-floor apartment in a house at 2213 Brookfield Ave. His office is in the same house.

"It's not the only place I sleep," he said. "I own nine properties, including a house in Ocean City, one in Florida, one on North Avenue. But the law is very clear on residency. If I were not qualified, I wouldn't be allowed to run in the 40th District."

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