HAVRE DE GRACE -- The big surprise in all the recent news about state Sen. Larry Young filling his pockets with no-bid state consulting contracts is that it should come as such a big surprise.
The distinguished gentleman has had his head in the public trough for years and has oinked racism whenever anyone has challenged him or been slow to provide the goodies.
Most of the time, he's been allowed to get away with this unpleasantly familiar tactic -- but not always.
As long ago as 1980, those with long memories will recall, then-Delegate Young was already at work trying to slurp loose dollars out of the state budget. That year, when the LY Group was only a twinkle in his eye, he was the president of something called the Center for Urban Environmental Studies Inc., based in Washington.
CUES had a great letterhead. The scientist and writer Rene Dubos was the honorary chairman, and the board included such well-known names as Benjamin Hooks, Parren Mitchell, Clarence Mitchell III, Morris Udall and Henry Parks. On that letterhead, Mr. Young sought $50,000 from the Maryland Energy Office to have CUES provide -- under a no-bid contract -- what he called a ''low-income outreach program.''
He almost managed it. The Department of Natural Resources, in which the energy office was then located, signed off.
But somebody blew the whistle and Mr. Young was told by the Board of Public Works that if he wanted his contract he would have to bid for it. Can we all guess what he did?
Of course! He wrote the governor, Harry Hughes, and cried racism.
CUES, he said, had already collected almost $1 million in no-bid grants from the federal government, and just what did the state of Maryland think it was doing by refusing to go along?
He accused the governor's budget staff of ''insensitivity,'' and in case Mr. Hughes didn't understand the code, he explained that he referred to ''actions that border on racism.''
As "a matter of principle," Mr. Young said, he had decided not to bid. That would really teach the bigots a lesson.
On Christmas Eve, 1980, Governor Hughes wrote back to Delegate Young. The ''Dear Larry'' response, friendly and polite in tone, was absolutely classic.
"I don't think it fair," wrote the governor, "that the Department of Natural Resources be placed in a position of defending itself against possible allegations that it entered into a sole source arrangement with a member of the Legislature without Board of Public Works approval for reasons other than the public interest. At the same time, I don't think it fair to place you in a position of having to defend yourself against possible allegations that you secured the contract, not on the basis of the competency of your firm, but rather, because of your position as a member of the House of Delegates.
''The competitive bidding process precludes this and strengthens public trust in government. And as your firm does such good work on behalf of the poor and minorities," the governor concluded, "they're the ones you're really hurting if you decide not to bid for the contract you'd like to have."
Larry Young didn't get that contract, but as we now know, he's gotten plenty of others without having to go through any competitive bidding process.
And in doing so he has contributed to public mistrust in government exactly as Mr. Hughes, in that long-ago Christmas Eve letter, implied he would.
On another matter, at The Sun's request I have agreed not to write any further columns on the 1998 gubernatorial campaign in Maryland. For readers who may find this peculiar, here is a brief explanation.
Several times over the last couple of years, at various friends' request, I've bought the odd ticket to a political fund-raiser.
This past year I bought a $100 ticket to a function that was billed as a thank-you to Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann for her work in preserving agricultural lands.
I also bought a $40 ticket to an Ellen Sauerbrey gathering in Perry Hall. (I had bought another $40 Sauerbrey ticket the year before.) I didn't attend any of the functions.
The Sun, like most papers, has for years had a policy prohibiting such contributions by newsroom employees. I agree with it, and when I was a Sun employee I carefully observed it. However, I haven't been a Sun employee since 1982, although I worked for its Harford County subsidiary in 1989 and 1990. I sell my writing, to The Sun and elsewhere, on a piecework basis.
For the record, although I think Mrs. Rehrmann has been a good county executive and has been especially successful in the area of farmland preservation, I'm not a supporter of her gubernatorial candidacy and don't expect to vote for her in the Democratic primary.
As for Mrs. Sauerbrey, anyone reading what I had to say about her 1994 campaign knows that I was loudly cheering as she won the Republican primary and again as she came very close in the general election.
If I'm going to cheer for her again next year I haven't decided, but if I do, it won't be in The Sun.
Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.
Pub Date: 12/11/97