Dundalk gave DeJuliis roots for survival

July 21, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

When she was 22 years old and finally resolving to end an abusive marriage, Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis found the oldest of her three children, Bill, 6, leaning over her and gently wiping the blood off of her face as she lay dazed on the kitchen floor.

"When I grow up," Bill told her, with a child's ferocity, "I'll get a knife and kill him, and he'll never hurt you again."

He was talking about his own father, who imagined bullying expressed masculinity. It was 28 years ago, and the father died from other causes some years later, but DeJuliis, now running for a 2nd District U.S. congressional seat against Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., remembers it as a vivid, defining moment of her life.

It's a life rarely lacking in drama, from a girl who grew up one of five children in a little rowhouse on Grayhaven Road in Dundalk, married at 16, found herself the terrified, separated, unemployed mother of three kids six years later, worked the midnight shift at Western Electric for four years, married a second time and ended it after 17 years, got herself elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, got married a third time (with three new kids) two years ago, and now finds herself running against an incumbent, Ehrlich, who grabbed Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution for all it was worth, good or bad, and now figures to reap some of its benefits or blunders.

"Oh, I'm gonna win," DeJuliis says. She's nursing a soda in a little place on York Road, cooling off in white jeans and an open-collared blouse at the end of a sweltering day, and asking, "Isn't it time somebody from Dundalk went to Congress?"

It's a piece of geography, and a state of mind, to which she regularly returns. The district takes in eastern Baltimore County, all of Harford County and a piece of Anne Arundel. She's been making the rounds. But the emotions come out of Dundalk.

"Dad worked at Beth Steel, Mom at Western Electric," she says. "Five kids in a rowhouse, you were taught to share, to look out for each other. When I was a teen-age mom, when I was 22 and very scared with three children, those values got me through: Personal responsibility. Take charge of your life. Work hard. Play by the rules. That's what Dundalk taught me."

With a baby on the way, she dropped out of school, got her GED, wanted to go further. The Women's Club of Dundalk raised money for various scholastic pursuits; they paid for her books at Dundalk Community College. There was more help from the family's church. She felt a community's embrace.

But it was a lonely time, too. "A girlfriend came by one time," she remembers, "on her way to a pajama party. We were just teen-agers, but I had a baby in a diaper. The party sounded like such fun, but I couldn't do it anymore."

Dundalk's changed over the years, but not as scarily as some -- including Ehrlich -- have indicated. He and Baltimore County Councilman Louis L. DePazzo staged a May rally in Dundalk, alarming all who would listen about plans to move low-income Section 8 families there from decayed government high-rises in the city, either in the so-called Moving to Opportunity program or other efforts.

It's a divisive issue, but it defies all government reports, which say that Section 8 families will be spread around the metro area and that Dundalk is not a target. It also defies existing statistics. Of the first 182 families moved in the MTO program, a total of one went to Dundalk.

DeJuliis is hesitant about diving into the issue. On York Road, she dodges and withdraws, but the next day sends a fax, through a spokesperson, declaring, "She wanted to restate she is opposed to MTO. It does not meet her three housing principles."

On York Road, she was immediately clear about those: Federal housing assistance should be based on hard work, on responsibility, on home ownership.

"High rise housing," she said, "doesn't work. But, without those three principles, it can't work. When I learned about that rally Ehrlich put together, I thought maybe something constructive would come out of it, a legislative solution. Not scaring people."

As she moves around the district, she says, she sees "diversity, but the values are the same. A woman outside a grocery store in Essex said her husband's been laid off, she's working longer hours at the hospital, the mortgage money's tight, and her son's graduating but there's no money for college.

"I hear this and think about Ehrlich voting to cut money from the government's college loan program. Our kids don't get to go to college without loans."

She's eager to attach Ehrlich to the Republicans' sweep into office, to subsequent budget cuts and perceived insensitivity, and to Ehrlich's voting "93 percent of the time with Newt. That's independence? He's taken an extreme right-wing stance. That's not this district. These are moderate, hard-working folks who believe you do your job, and the government works just as hard as you do and doesn't close itself down when it doesn't get the job done."

Some of this message seems to be reaching voters. Last week, DeJuliis' campaign reported raising $223,440 in the past three -- months. She's got about $189,000 in the bank now, compared with Ehrlich's $315,000.

Two years ago, DeJuliis went to Capitol Hill at the request of women's groups, testifying before a congressional subcommittee on domestic violence. "If I can provide some hope to just one woman currently trapped in a violent relationship," she declared, "then it is worth the pain of old memories."

Last week, she said, "I'm not a victim. I am tough. I'm a survivor, a fighter." The muscles in her face clenched. Then she relaxed, took a sip of her soda and asked, "Anyway, why can't the daughter of a steel worker go to Congress?"

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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