Young's defenders choose divisiveness

January 15, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In the crush of bodies in a narrow hallway outside the Maryland Senate chambers yesterday stood a shaken Larry Young, listening to the sound of muttered words coming out of faces inches from his and hoping to find some emotional sustenance.

"Be strong," whispered a man next to Young.

"Be strong, black man," said another.

Young nodded lumpishly, and looked around with large, wounded eyes. Packed against him were all manner of those who have followed his recent travails, who have read of his conflicts of interest, who have heard of him taking money with both hands, and in this moment they were rejecting all such news to embrace Young as he prepared to join old Senate colleagues who wished he would simply disappear.

"Remember David," came another voice close to him. "Remember the 23rd Psalm."

Young leaned his face close to this voice and he whispered back softly, like someone offering religious confession. Be strong, he was told again, and now Young edged his way through the crowd, down the corridor to the door leading to the Senate chambers.

He is still a state senator, but not for long. He is a 24-year member of the General Assembly, but his hours there are now numbered. He has worked hard, but now he's been caught working more for himself than for his constituents, and in defending himself Young and some of his supporters are invoking all manner of divisive language.

"I will not resign," he told a cheering West Baltimore crowd Tuesday, the night before yesterday's General Assembly opening.

The words still echoed yesterday as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller stood outside the State House. Miller seemed to be struggling to control his anger. He wanted Young to go quietly. He wanted to avoid a floor fight on expulsion, to avoid dramatic confrontations of all sorts, and it wasn't happening.

A hundred yards from Miller, some of Young's supporters had gathered, and one of them was hollering into a microphone about intolerance against black people, and then another speaker was saying, "Hands off the black community," and a third speaker invoked the name of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

And all of this was said while standing near a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the late Supreme Court justice from Baltimore, whose ghost must have wept at such a scene.

Because this isn't about civil rights, and it's not about a white establishment picking on a beleaguered black legislator. It's about Larry Young first picking the pockets of various institutions, including Coppin State College, which needed his help, and it has now become Young playing his supporters for chumps, and hoping that none of them looks at the particulars of his actions.

So yesterday, there was Mike Miller outside the statehouse, face flushed, and he was talking about Young, and about the volcanic radio talk shows, and about the thing fueling all sorts of emotions, which is race.

"God gave Larry Young a very special gift," Miller said. "He's very intelligent. But I can't imagine him [not resigning]. I can't imagine his attorneys letting him do this. I guess his course was decided by talk-show radio. I've heard the venom, and the hate, and the name-calling. ... I guess he had no choice but to say, 'I'm not going to resign.'"

Miller named the radio station with the venomous talk. And it's true, the language has been bitter, and terrifically uninformed, and plays not to the intelligence of its listeners but to their history of hurts.

And some of this is understandable. There is, in the black community, a sense of two systems of justice. You hear talk of political persecution, and the name Newt Gingrich now arrives in connection to Larry Young's. And why not?

This Gingrich, on Capitol Hill, made Larry Young look like an amateur. He took $1.46 million in tax-exempt money from various foundations he'd set up, and used most of it to run for office. This is against the law. He had some Earning by Learning Program, supposedly to pay little kids $2 to read books. Donors good-heartedly paid $62,254 to this foundation. The money only goes to the kids, Gingrich said. This was a lie. Tax returns showed almost none of it went to the kids, it went to some guy to write a puff biography of Gingrich.

Did Newt go to jail? Of course not. Was he expelled from the House? Of course not. And shame on everybody for letting him get away with this.

But Washington's shame shouldn't be Maryland's, and Gingrich's actions don't excuse Young's. Just look at a piece of it. Young was paid about $34,000 by Coppin State College. He was taking the money to perform some services for the college, which leads to two problems: Such services were part of his job as a state senator. It's why he was elected. And, second, there is zero evidence that he actually performed any work for them.

But don't lose sight of that $34,000 figure when you're looking for victims here. You want victims? A semester's tuition at Coppin State is $1,506. This figure divides into Young's $34,000 roughly 22 times.

In other words, there are 22 kids lacking money for college who could have been given scholarships for the money Larry Young pocketed from Coppin State. Is Young the victim here, or are these kids?

Yesterday, Young slipped into the Senate chambers and sat down for 13 minutes while cameras took his picture. Then he got up and left. But, as he exited the State House, he walked past Herbert H. Lindsey, who is president of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP.

"This is not a racial issue," Lindsey said softly. "There might be people out there trying to muddy the water and confuse the issue. The issue is accountability of elected officials. For anyone to make this a racial issue is a disservice to everyone."

It's a disservice that Larry Young chooses to call a legitimate defense.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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