Potential power pocket in the 7th District race: Political leaders in Catonsville and Woodlawn say their bloc of votes will mean victory for the candidate they choose to back.

The Political Game

January 23, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

In a map accompanying the Political Game column in yesterday's editions, the labels on Legislative Districts 47B and 12A were transposed.

The Sun regrets the error.

OVERLOOKED thus far in assessing the strategies of filling Rep. Kweisi Mfume's 7th District congressional seat has been a potential pocket of political power nestled in the southwest corner of Baltimore County.

The political leaders in Catonsville and parts of Woodlawn believe that the Democratic voters in their areas could sway the March 5 primary -- particularly given the huge candidate field and the low turnout expected throughout the 7th District.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

And they now are looking very carefully at the candidates, offering a bloc of votes and the backing of their organizations in return for a place at the table with the new member of Congress.

The way state Del. Thomas E. Dewberry sees it, the organizations and leaders in his Legislative District 47B and the adjacent District 12A could account for as much as 15 percent to 20 percent of the total voter turnout in the primary.

"I think if we can make that one bloc, that's all she wrote," said Mr. Dewberry, a Baltimore County Democrat. "If we pick a candidate that brings with them a solid voter base, I think that when you add what we can bring, that will decide the election."

Mr. Dewberry's one-time opponent for his House of Delegates seat, John "Jack" K. Milani, sees it the same way.

"If we can keep this group together -- and it has been divided in the past, believe me -- we're hoping to get a turnout of 9,000-9,500," said Mr. Milani, the part-owner of Monaghan's Pub in Woodlawn who initially entered, but withdrew, from the race for Mr. Mfume's seat.

"We've assembled pretty much all the elected officials," said Mr. Milani, who also is president of the Licensed Beverage Association of Baltimore County.

Joining them at an unofficial summit scheduled for later this week will be the two districts' senators, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, the Howard County legislator whose 12th District extends into Baltimore County, and Sen. George W. Della Jr., the Baltimorean whose 47th District reaches across the Baltimore County line.

Among other elected leaders in the mix will be Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, and the County Councilman Stephen G. "Sam" Moxley, a Catonsville lawyer.

Unlike much of the rest of the 7th District -- which is more than 71 percent black and reaches into some of the poorest areas of Baltimore City -- the two legislative districts are predominantly white, middle-class and conservative (i.e., Republican Kenneth Kondner carried both districts in the 1994 general election against Mr. Mfume).

Nevertheless, Mr. Dewberry and Mr. Milani believe they can rally the support of their constituents to back their candidate in the March 5 Democratic primary.

More than 42 percent of the Democratic vote in the Baltimore County portion of the 7th -- nearly 20,000 Democrats -- lies in state Legislative Districts 47B and 12A. And they believe they can get half of them to the polls: If nothing else, based on recent election turnout figures, these folks vote -- and in higher percentages than elsewhere in the 7th.

The political leaders specifically want a congressional district office in the Catonsville area, their pick of the community leader to run it, and a representative who is visible, accessible and geared toward constituent service. They believe they'll be able to coax voters to the polls with those assurances from the candidate they choose.

"We plan to cover polling places, try and hold some kind of rally, write letters and reach out to our friends and supporters, and use what political forces we have to rally support around the candidate," Mr. Dewberry said.

So far, Mr. Dewberry said, members of this alliance have talked to at least a half-dozen candidates, including Baltimore Del. Elijah E. Cummings; Baltimore Del. Clarence "Tiger" Davis; Baltimore County Sen. Delores G. Kelley; Baltimore lawyer Traci K. Miller; Baltimore Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr.; and Baltimore professor Joseph E. Ward.

But Mr. Milani said he believes the leading candidates for endorsement are Mr. Cummings, Ms. Kelley and Mr. Montague.

As an indication of the importance of this area, Ms. Kelley already has worked the area for individual endorsements.

She already has picked up support from former state Sens. Nancy L. Murphy and Timothy R. Hickman, former Baltimore County Councilman Ronald B. Hickernell, and even her one-time opponent for the Senate, Harold G. Gordon, from a little further north, in Woodlawn. She also should be able to count on support from Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who is playing his cards closely at this point.

But should the Catonsville alliance's endorsement not go to Ms. Kelley, Mr. Dewberry is not worried about competing with those forces -- or other groups behind other candidates.

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