Can we talk? Ask Mikulski Senator discusses issues on TV show

February 07, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Babs took on Geraldo, Leeza and Carnie yesterday in a battle for television viewers.

While talk-show host Geraldo talked about fitness, Leeza held forth on deadbeat dads and Carnie focused on make-overs, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski appeared on closed-circuit TV to talk to Charlestown Retirement Community's 2,500 residents about Medicare and other issues.

But there was no question who won the ratings on Channel 6, where Ms. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, was the featured guest on "Charlestown Today," the Catonsville community's daily 10 a.m. show.

"She was very nice, very good," said Jeanne Woods, a Charlestown resident who watched the program's taping at an in-house studio -- the only one of its kind in Maryland.

Topics on the half-hour show, which started in 1990, vary from the mundane to the celebrated. For instance, earlier this week, a quilt collection and plans for a trip to Alaska were featured. A call-in program airs Fridays.

"I watch it every day. It has interesting views and entertainment," said Nettie Clifton, 68, in the studio audience for the first time.

"I'm interested in politics. It's something I've taken up since I've gotten older," said Catherine Shovlin, 79, explaining why she showed up a half-hour early to get a seat for the show. "I'm interested in Barbara Mikulski and to see what women are doing."

Ms. Mikulski, wearing a navy pantsuit with a red, white and blue scarf, soon had the audience of about 40 seniors captivated. Other residents watched her live from their apartments or caught the show as it was rebroadcast four times yesterday.

Taking a microphone, Ms. Mikulski cruised the floor Oprah-style, at one point making a reference to the popular television personality who once worked in Baltimore. "I told her, 'We chunky Baltimoreans did OK,' " Ms. Mikulski said.

Audience members laughed at her jokes. And they applauded her efforts to protect them from excessive capital gains taxes and proposed Medicare cuts that could change the way seniors receive medical care.

"I am very concerned about ensuring that seniors have a safety net. People are afraid they are going to outlive their savings," Ms. Mikulski told the group as the cameras rolled. "What can I do to help you stretch your savings?"

While no specific suggestions were forthcoming, Ms. Mikulski promised to seek economic security for the seniors she called the "G. I. Joe generation."

"These are the men and women who fought to save our country," she said. "They should not be penalized."

She said many seniors rely on proceeds from the sale of their homes to finance living in a retirement community. But, they say, taxes often take a huge chunk from the profits if the money is not reinvested. "I don't have an answer today. I will in six months," Ms. Mikulski said.

One of her greatest wishes, she said, was to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, which caused her father's death. The disease also has afflicted former President Ronald Reagan, who celebrated his 85th birthday yesterday.

"We should hold [Mr. Reagan] in our minds and hearts and say a special prayer for Nancy," she said. "Once a first lady, always a first lady."

It was a powerful message for Margaret Simmons, 84, whose second husband died from the disease. "She's working for a cure," the Charlestown resident said. "She was great. What she said really hit home to me."

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