Dyson steps onto comeback trail CAMPAIGN 1994

September 22, 1994|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

Royden Patrick Dyson, the former five-term Democratic congressman from Maryland's 1st District, is back.

After losing a bitter congressional race in 1990 amid questions about his ethics and ties to special interests, Mr. Dyson is staging a bid for an open Maryland Senate seat.

And what better time to attempt a return to the game -- a year when nearly a third of the 188 seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs, including the newly drawn 29th District Senate seat that he wants?

It's friendly territory for Mr. Dyson, made up of St. Mary's County, his loyal political home base, and half of Calvert County.

In a telephone interview punctuated by frequent sniping at the media, the 45-year-old former legislator said he was lobbied to get back into politics by a broad spectrum of supporters.

After losing his seat in Congress four years ago to Wayne T. Gilchrest, he told loyalists he would be available for public service in the future. Now, after semi-retiring from politics for duty in the family lumber and hardware business and a stint as co-host of a local radio talk show, he said he answered their call. "They came to me and said, 'Get in there. We need you now,' " he said.

Mr. Dyson entered the Democratic primary on July 5, the filing deadline. He raised $1,325, spent $387 of it on bumper stickers and walked away with the party's nomination with 54 percent of the vote in a four-way primary race.

But Mr. Dyson is looking at a tough fight in the general election, facing an equally popular and well-known businessman, James Manning McKay, 74, a former member of the House of Delegates and former president of the St. Mary's County Board of Commissioners.

Mr. McKay, a Hollywood resident who owns a small grocery store chain in St. Mary's County, switched parties about a year and a half ago after seeing what he called "a certain disillusionment in the populace" with Maryland's Democratic leadership.

Mr. Dyson and Mr. McKay are old friends.

Mr. McKay said: "We have a board of directors of our little company and I was going to ask Roy when I had a vacancy a couple years ago. I fully respect him and love his family, but I feel I'm better equipped to represent the needs of Southern Maryland and the state than Roy is."

The choice will be difficult for many voters in independent St. Mary's and Calvert counties, where personal ties often transcend party loyalties. Even the retiring Democratic incumbent, Bernie Fowler of Calvert County, has not made up his mind.

"It's a little early right now to make any commitments at this point," said Mr. Fowler, who was Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski's running mate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. "I want some time to do some thinking and some talking."

Mr. Dyson has always done well at home in St. Mary's County, where he and his family are well-known. It was one of only three counties he carried in the 13-county 1st Congressional District when he lost to Mr. Gilchrest in 1990 by an overall 57-43 percent margin.

He hammered Mr. Gilchrest in St. Mary's, taking 65 percent of the vote, while Calvert County gave Mr. Dyson only 43 percent.

This time, the battleground is much smaller. The redrawn 29th District has 31,000 registered voters in St. Mary's County and 16,000 in Calvert County.

"He'll have his work cut out for him . . . but Roy should have the edge," said Del. John F. Slade III, a Democrat running to return to the House from the new District 29B.

Mr. Dyson served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1975 to 1981. In 1976, however, he raised his sights to Capitol Hill and ran for Congress from the 1st District against Robert E. Bauman, a conservative Republican who eventually rose to national prominence as a combative congressional spokesman for the New Right.

Mr. Dyson lost his initial congressional bid, but defeated Mr. Bauman four years later, after Mr. Bauman disclosed he was an alcoholic and homosexual after his arrest for soliciting sex from a 16-year-old male prostitute in Washington.

Mr. Dyson served 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives until his defeat by Mr. Gilchrest in 1990 -- but not without incident.

Trouble began for Mr. Dyson in the spring of 1988, when Thomas M. Pappas, his close friend, adviser and chief of staff, leaped to his death from a posh midtown Manhattan hotel after a newspaper account of the unorthodox way in which the aide ran the congressman's office.

In the wake of the suicide, reports of Mr. Dyson's coziness with the defense industry began to surface and ultimately contributed to his political downfall. Mr. Dyson, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was linked through campaign contributions and associations with Unisys Corp. officials who were later convicted in the Pentagon procurement scandal.

Mr. Dyson narrowly won his 1988 re-election bid against Mr. Gilchrest and spent nearly $530,000 -- a record for him and a far cry from the cost of bumper stickers in this year's state Senate race.

In his last congressional contest, in 1990, revelations also surfaced that the hawkish Mr. Dyson was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He eventually succumbed to Mr. Gilchrest, a political neophyte.

Asked if the state Senate seat was merely a stepping stone for a return to Capitol Hill, Mr. Dyson offered a typically terse reply: "No."

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