Crosse to seek court ban on combining 7th District primaries

January 22, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

A could-be 7th Congressional District candidate says he will ask a federal judge today to stop the state from combining the special primary election to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Kweisi Mfume with the state's regular March 5 primary.

The Rev. St. George I. B. Crosse III, a former Republican, one-time congressional candidate and Baltimore gadfly, said yesterday that he will ask for an injunction to halt the merging of the special primary to complete Mr. Mfume's term with the state's regularly scheduled federal primary, maintaining that doing so would be unconstitutional.

"Under the law, the special election is completely different from the primary and general elections -- and should be kept that way," said Mr. Crosse, 56, a minister who changed his party affiliation back to Democrat last month.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed into law Friday emergency legislation that combines the primaries instead of holding two separate elections.

Under the new law -- which establishes what Mr. Glendening calls the "winner-take-all primary" -- the Democratic and Republican winners of the March 5 primary would face each other in a special general election April 16 to complete the last nine months of Mr. Mfume's term.

Those winners also would be their parties' nominees in the Nov. 5 general election for the two-year congressional term that begins in January 1997.

Mr. Crosse said the new law "is patently unconstitutional" and that he and the residents of the 7th District are hurt by such a measure.

"It's a question of due process and equal protection under the law," said Mr. Crosse, an assistant to the president of Sojourner-Douglass College in East Baltimore.

"First, I didn't find out about this farce, this bill, until somebody called me from Annapolis to tell me. Second, if I want to run, I have to run for both terms, instead of just one. And third, as a citizen who pays taxes in the 7th Congressional District, I'm being denied a special election that I'm due," he said.

Jack Schwartz, an assistant Maryland attorney general for opinions and advice, said he believes the legislation passes constitutional muster.

"The attorney general's office evaluated this piece of legislation for any constitutional problems, just as we do every piece of legislation, and we advised the governor that it was constitutional," Mr. Schwartz said.

"The new law is intended to reduce the potential for voter confusion and to ensure that the citizens of the 7th District have representation in Congress as quickly as possible."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said it was not convinced that the issue was a constitutional matter.

"It did not seem to us that there is a grave wrong being done anyone by merging the two primaries," said Stuart Comstock-Gay, the state ACLU's executive director.

"Everybody is still entitled to vote, everybody is still entitled to run, and the fact that they merged them, we didn't think that was a constitutional issue."

If one of the primary winners wishes only to serve out Mr. Mfume's term -- which Mr. Crosse has expressed an interest in -- that candidate would have to formally decline the nomination for the two-year term after the election. Then, the state central committee of that candidate's party would have to convene to elect a replacement nominee for the Nov. 5 general election.

Mr. Crosse, who said recently that he wanted to run in the special primary to complete the last nine months of Mr. Mfume's term, said yesterday that he was unsure whether he would file as a candidate in the combined primaries.

Under the new law, the closed filing deadline for the seat was opened for one more day -- today. Prospective candidates have until 9 p.m. to file with the state election board in Annapolis to enter the merged primary.

Mr. Crosse is a former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official who ran for Congress as a Republican against Mr. Mfume in 1986.

Mr. Mfume is leaving Congress on Feb. 18 to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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