Thief took much more than Mikulski's purse Senator recovering from Oct. 15 mugging

November 01, 1995|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Since being mugged outside her Fells Point home in what she calls a "terrible rendezvous," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski says she has lost the sense of personal safety she felt in a community that's been her home for more than two decades.

In her first extended interview about the Oct. 15 attack, the senator from Baltimore said that, in the aftermath of the incident, she went through "three or four boxes of Kleenexes" grappling with anger and grief. But she said she refuses to change the way she leads her life.

"I will not be doubly victimized," Ms. Mikulski, 59, said yesterday in her Capitol Hill office, adorned with some of the flower arrangements she has received from friends and well-wishers.

"I am a person who loves my town, loves being out and about, and I will continue to do that. I'm not going to place myself under house arrest because of what was done."

According to police, a tall man in a sweat suit shoved Ms. Mikulski to the ground as she was returning home from a late dinner that Sunday night about 11:45. As she struggled to push him away, the man grabbed her handbag and fled. She suffered a sprained hand and a dislocated finger.

Last week, 32-year-old Robert Eugene Perlie, 6 foot 3 and 180 pounds -- a suspected drug user with an extensive criminal history -- was arrested and charged with robbing and injuring the 4-foot-11-inch Ms. Mikulski. He is being held at the Baltimore City Detention Center in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Because the case is pending in the courts, Ms. Mikulski said she would not comment on the suspect or describe the attack.

Physically, she said, she is "doing better." Although she no longer wears the sling she had on for a few days, the ring finger of her left hand is in a splint that she removes several times a day to do therapeutic exercises.

Along with treatment at the hand clinic at Union Memorial Hospital, she is receiving acupuncture treatment at the Center for Traditional Acupuncture in Columbia. Both treatments, she said, are "helping me with my body, mind and spirit."

Ms. Mikulski, who was mugged before -- in 1967, in Bolton Hill -- says she is grateful she has no permanent injury. But, she adds, "I have a permanent memory."

The senator said she was startled to be accosted on her street in Fells Point after parking her car and starting to walk to her rowhouse.

"I'm fairly street-smart, so I always look at the streets," she said, "and so, all of a sudden, this figure is in front of me. I was absolutely shocked."

After the attack, she went inside and called the police, who arrived promptly. "They asked me if I wanted to go to the emergency room. I hadn't thought too much of it until they said, 'Look at your hand,' and my hand was swollen. I was so filled with adrenalin that I wasn't even aware of it."

Her hand was treated that night at the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center. And then she began to deal with her emotional injuries -- anger and grief.

"It's like, a hoodlum does this to me!" Ms. Mikulski said. "So you're pretty angry. Then there's a certain sense of grief because of the loss of a sense of personal security.

"You can't have this occur without having a great loss of personal security, particularly in a community that has the lowest crime rate, that I fought to save."

The senator began her political career in the early 1970s by successfully fighting the construction of a major highway that would have cut through Fells Point.

To deal with her emotions -- accompanied by pain and a loss of energy that kept her away from work for two days -- she said she talked about the incident with close friends, and then tried to look beyond it to her work.

She is still apprehensive, she says, about "coming and going." But she said that she is confident the trepidation will pass eventually and that she is not considering a move out of the neighborhood.

Still, Ms. Mikulski bemoans the rising crime in the historic waterfront neighborhood.

"The community had one of the lowest crime rates in the city up until recently, when we were invaded by these aggressive panhandlers," she said.

In fact, the suspect was known in Fells Point for "telling people that he will watch their car while they go into a bar so they will pay him money," court records said.

Ms. Mikulski said she believes her attack has created a "sense of urgency" in Fells Point about fighting crime. Last week, at a meeting planned before her attack, about 200 merchants and residents decided to form a committee to work with the mayor, police and state's attorney on the crime and panhandling problem.

Ms. Mikulski, who favors a "community court" to swiftly deal with petty crimes, sent a letter to the meeting and had her state director attend.

A lifelong Baltimore resident, the senator said she has been overwhelmed by the response to her ordeal. Last Saturday night, upon entering Victor's, a waterfront restaurant near Little Italy, she was greeted with applause.

A group of U.S. Secret Service men and women, hearing that she lost a rosary that had been blessed by the pope, sent her a new one. And she has received about 150 calls and cards, many from people who have similar stories to share.

"My experience, sad to say, goes on every day to a lot of wonderful, ordinary people who don't get headlines and interviews," Ms. Mikulski said.

"When they now see me out, people are glad that I'm not only well, but they're glad that I'm not immobilized by this incident. Which, I think, gives courage to others who've also suffered these terrible encounters."

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