Young's troubles could affect Glendening, other Democrats Republicans could use situation against rivals in fall election campaign

Ethics Probe Of Senator Young

January 14, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

State Sen. Larry Young's alleged ethical sins could end his legislative career -- and threaten the political future of other Democratic officials, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

As Del. Howard P. Rawlings of Baltimore put it said yesterday: "It hurts us all."

Young's problems will form the centerpiece of anti-Glendening broadsides that could endure throughout this year's primary and general election campaigns, and the shooting started yesterday.

In separate forums, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, challenging Glendening in the Democratic primary, and the Republican Party's 1994 gubernatorial candidate, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, accused the governor yesterday of setting the tone for Young by aggressively raising funds among health care corporations.

Maryland's Democratic Party chairman, Peter B. Krauser, immediately countered, saying Marylanders will "concentrate on the governor's record, which has been outstanding."

After finding that Young ventured willfully across legal and ethical boundaries, the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics urged Monday that Young be stripped of all committee assignments and, perhaps, be expelled from the Senate.

Glendening declined to say yesterday whether he thinks Young should resign, but Senate leaders are attempting to convince the West Baltimore Democrat that resignation is the best alternative for him -- and would spare the Senate and its members an embarrassing duty.

Challengers' views

Meanwhile, Rehrmann and Sauerbrey said voters should think of Glendening as Young's role model.

In a letter dated yesterday, Rehrmann challenged Glendening to initiate debarment proceedings against Merit Behavioral Care Corp. of New Jersey, which now holds a $10.9 million state health contract.

The ethics panel found that Young, who is chairman of the Senate's health subcommittee, had been paid more than $100,000 by Merit in 1996 and 1997.

"You should not allow Merit to retain any state contracts in the face of revelations that it paid more than $100,000 to a sitting member of the General Assembly with authority over health care regulations," Rehrmann said.

Glendening has said he will cooperate in every way with legislative leaders in any investigation of such contracts as suggested by the legislative committee, according to Judi Scioli, the governor's press secretary. She said the gov- ernor had not ** received Rehrmann's letter.

Sauerbrey said Young and Glendening are part of a "culture," nurtured by Democrats over at least a generation of uninterrupted rule in Annapolis, and only a Republican administration can change it satisfactorily.

"It comes as no surprise that the disgraceful kind of conduct Governor Glendening exhibited with his pension scam and his fund-raising scandals have been mirrored by Senator Young, one of his closest political allies," she said. "To restore our citizens' trust, we must change the culture in Annapolis."

Sauerbrey's reference to a "pension scam" arises from Glendening's decision when still Prince George's County executive to accept enhanced pension benefits designed to ease recession-era layoffs for county employees who were "involuntarily separated." Glendening's staff determined that he and others on his staff could qualify as "involuntarily separated" when they left to run for governor. Glendening subsequently relinquished the benefits.

The fund-raising "scandal" she referred to involved Merit, which flew Glendening to New York in 1996 for a fund-raiser attended by Young. Glendening said he was not aware that his political benefactors were competing for a multimillion-dollar health care contract in Maryland at the time of the party -- and he returned money they gave his campaign.

It has since come out that at that time, Young was on the Merit payroll -- which, Republicans say, makes the connection between the two men impossible to miss.

"It stretches belief that Larry Young wasn't involved in that fund-raiser," said Carol Hirschburg, an adviser to Sauerbrey. "He was Merit's person. It makes it very, very easy to tie it all together."

Inoculating Democrats

But Rawlings said he and his colleagues believe that by acting quickly and stringently, the ethics committee inoculated Democrats at large against Republican attacks because of Young.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, in Annapolis yesterday for a Democratic luncheon and pre-session unity rally, added: "I know Sauerbrey wants to link [the governor and Young], but it's not on the radar screen in our county."

Said Krauser, chairman of the state Democratic Party: "The GOP doesn't have any other issue to run on." Sauerbrey's speeches, he said, "are devoid of any issues. She's a candidate without a horse to ride."

Young, though, may have provided her one. With a criminal in- vestigation under way by the state prosecutor -- and potential for a protracted struggle by Young to keep his seat -- the continuing controversy could remain on the horizon despite efforts by Democratic leaders to minimize the damage.

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