Desperate to grab the attention of voters before Tuesday's primaries, three back-of-the-pack candidates for governor yesterday peppered the GOP and Democratic front-runners with charges old and new, on everything from ethics to Serbia.
Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey dredged up U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley's 1991 and 1992 record of support for the Serbian aggressors in the Bosnian war, saying voters will see that as evidence of Mrs. Bentley's "exceedingly poor judgment and blindness to blatant and obvious oppression."
Mrs. Sauerbrey, who has gained on Mrs. Bentley in recent polls, said Democrats are "salivating" at the thought of using the Serbian issue against the five-term congresswoman in the general election.
But Gordon Hensley, a campaign consultant to Mrs. Bentley, replied: "When Mrs. Sauerbrey is reduced to talking about U.S. foreign policy, she's making her campaign look weak, desperate and out of gas.
"Mrs. Bentley," he said, "does not condone violence to solve any of the world's problems.
Two Democrats, meanwhile, beat up on the front-runner for their party's nomination, Parris N. Glendening, the three-term Prince George's County executive.
Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, in second place among the Democrats, used a shotgun-style approach, blasting Mr. Glendening for political "cronyism" and sniping at his record on crime and education.
Mr. Steinberg referred to several cases in which Mr. Glendening's political supporters had done business with Prince George's County while he was executive, citing, for example, bond counsel work done for the county by the law firm of Lance Billingsley, Mr. Glendening's campaign committee chairman.
"Mr. Glendening has put political considerations before the public good," Mr. Steinberg charged during a press conference at his Owings Mills headquarters.
Glendening campaign manager Emily Smith said Mr. Billingsley's firm was one of four in the county to benefit from a policy initiated by Mr. Glendening to funnel the county's bond work to local law firms, rather than out-of-state firms.
"There has not ever been criticism about the quality of the work that has been done," Ms. Smith said.
Mr. Steinberg also previewed a new, hard-hitting radio spot that predicts Mr. Glendening as governor will need to increase taxes to make good on campaign promises.
"Read Parris' lips: He will have to raise taxes," the advertisement says.
Ms. Smith countered again, saying, "Parris has said he's not going to raise taxes. There's no need to raise taxes.
"Mickey Steinberg is desperate," she said. "His campaign is over, and he's making charges that are false, inaccurate and negative."
State Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore called on State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli to investigate the Glendening campaign for twice exceeding legal contribution limits in donations made last month to two Baltimore Democratic slates.
The Glendening camp has said the above-limit donations were a mistake and said they asked for, and received, refunds of the excess amounts.
But Mr. Miedusiewski said he believes Mr. Glendening intended to circumvent the law, and likened the Glendening campaign response to bank robbers who, when caught, say they intend to give the money back.
"It is tantamount to vote-buying," Mr. Miedusiewski said.
He also pressed Mr. Montanarelli to investigate a remark by Ms. Smith in The Sun earlier this week that suggested that some of Mr. Glendening's campaign money will be used to pay poll workers, which is prohibited by state law.
Ms. Smith said her comments were "my mistake."
"We were talking about sharing resources," Ms. Smith said. "We are not paying poll workers."
The fourth Democrat in the race, state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County, refrained from attacking anyone yesterday. Rather, she outlined a series of proposals to reduce government spending, including cutting the state work force by 15 percent through attrition, selling the state yacht, eliminating paid parking for state employees, and canceling taxi service for Medicaid recipients who need nonemergency medical treatment.
On the Republican side, Mrs. Sauerbrey said she decided to raise the long-dormant Serbian issue for the first time with five days remaining before Tuesday's primary because anti-Serbian demonstrators have been picketing Mrs. Bentley at events with increasing regularity.
"Very clearly, they intend to dog her path until the election in November," she said. "It was not an issue I felt could be ignored."
Aides to Mrs. Bentley have defended her involvement in the Serbian issue by saying she was asked to intervene by the Bush administration to help establish communications between warring factions. Mrs. Sauerbrey said she did not believe that was true.
She said that Mrs. Bentley, who is of Serbian descent, has admitted using congressional stationery and staff to establish a national network of Serbian Americans, has defended the Serbian regime in Congress, and raised more than $80,000 in campaign contributions from Serbian-Americans in 1992. She
called on Mrs. Bentley to give the money back.