This is no ordinary judge's race Split decision: Two judges' appointments have drawn unexpected opposition, and the resulting race has produced some strange alliances.

The political game

January 09, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

ASIDE FROM THE 7th Congressional District, the best campaign in the state this year seems to be the race for Howard County circuit judge.

What is usually a routine confirmation by voters of the governor's appointments to the bench is turning out to be a tough political fight, complete with the strangest of alliances.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- who has said gender and racial diversity will be a priority of his administration -- appointed Circuit Judges Donna Hill Staton and Diane O. Leasure in October. Judge Leasure is the county's first female circuit judge, and Judge Hill Staton is the county's first black circuit judge.

Like all new judges, the two women must be confirmed at the polls in the first general election after their appointment. The election is in November, but they first must survive the March 5 primary -- and the two appointees have a race on their hands.

Mr. Glendening's selections did not sit well with some members of the Howard County bar, and three other candidates -- District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and two lawyers, Jonathan Scott Smith and Jay Fred Cohen -- have entered the primary, all saying they have more experience than the governor's appointees.

The sitting judges (known by the opposition as "the interim appointees") have hired Mason-Dixon Campaign Polling & Strategy Inc. as a consultant to their campaigns.

The firm features two old political hands, Arthur W. Murphy, a Baltimore Democrat, and Carol A. Arscott, a Republican activist.

Meanwhile, Judge Gelfman, a Democrat, and Mr. Smith, a Republican, have hired Democratic consultant Herbert C. Smith (no relation to the judicial aspirant). But the "Elect the Best" team of Gelfman and Smith also has employed Chevy Fleischman, a former staffer for the Maryland Republican Party.

Party affiliations are meaningless in judicial elections (candidates run as both Democrats and Republicans), which presumably is the reason for so much cross-pollination.

Maurer knew her way around politics

Lost in the news last week that Lucille Maurer was stepping aside after nine years as Maryland's treasurer seemed to be the fact that deep down, the Montgomery County Democrat is a politician.

Mrs. Maurer, 73, served nearly 18 years in the General Assembly. She knows her way around the issues and the politics -- two areas she handled with intelligence, wit and heart.

Her retirement brought back a number of memories, including one incident just about a year ago when she artfully -- and repeatedly -- dodged a reporter's question.

After about 10 minutes of "on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand"

responses, it became obvious to all involved that she was not going to answer the query.

Laughing out loud, she said finally, "We call that riding high in the straddle."

Newcomer working hard in race for Mfume's seat

Political newcomer Traci K. Miller raised about $10,000 at a fund-raiser in Columbia Friday night for her campaign to win Rep. Kweisi Mfume's 7th District congressional seat.

Ms. Miller, 28, one of the 25 Democrats running in the March 5 primary, is taking the race seriously and working hard to be taken just as seriously.

Like most of the other credible 7th District candidates, Ms. Miller realizes that a lot of money -- anywhere from $250,000 to $350,000 -- will have to be raised to pay for television and radio advertising, as well as direct-mail pieces.

For a virtual political unknown, $10,000 is an impressive start.

But she says she also is going to take her campaign to the street -- and not just count on buying name recognition as the way to win a short campaign.

"I think this race will be won with hand-to-hand contact -- retail politics, meeting people one by one," said Ms. Miller, an assistant state's attorney in the city's Juvenile Courts Division who is on leave of absence.

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