A life of highs, lows and a final fall His rapid rise to power and stunning resilience can't save Young in the end

Senate Expels Young

January 17, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith and Peter Jensen | C. Fraser Smith and Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

In the beginning, Larry Young had almost everything a legislator needs: a knack for the political game, respected mentors who could help him move up and the ability to master complicated material.

"He was brilliant," said U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat from Baltimore. "I thought he was the hardest-working legislator I'd ever met."

Organized and energetic, Young packaged himself cleverly for the times. He came to the House of Delegates in 1975 representing poor and minority residents of the inner city, but he also identified himself as an urban environmentalist, a former employee of the Izaak Walton League of America, a respected environmental action group.

He quickly came to the attention of then-House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, now a U.S. congressman. Cardin and Young made history, as the Baltimore legislator became the first black to hold a committee chairmanship in the Maryland General Assembly.

That position of power offered a 32-year-old legislator unusual opportunity -- and, apparently, unusual peril.

Yesterday, Young made history of a far less welcome sort: He became the first legislator expelled from the Assembly in two centuries. The last was a card cheat forced out in the late 1700s.

Yet even as they rebuked him for bringing dishonor on the Senate, some of his colleagues spoke of promise squandered.

The legislature's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, which had recommended yesterday's expulsion vote, also praised his skills.

"It is these abilities and his strong work ethic which have propelled him into leadership positions," the committee wrote. "The Joint Committee is also aware of Senator Young's untiring efforts on behalf of the poor and otherwise disadvantaged residents of Maryland."

Called upon yesterday to defend himself, Young found his knowledge and experience something of a disadvantage. How, asked ethics committee co-chairman Sen. Michael J. Collins, could Young be unaware of ethics reporting requirements imposed on every legislator?

Ignorance, Collins said, was an "untenable, incredible and unworthy" defense. Since Young had filed the required disclosures in the past, Collins said, the defense seemed even weaker.

A skilled survivor

Time and again during his legislative career, Young encountered controversy and overcame it -- questionable fund raising, ethical conflicts, the alleged filing of a false police report and an investigation of the murder of a friend seven years ago.

Surviving situations that might have been politically fatal to others, Young gradually worked his way back to a position of substantial influence.

Until this week, he held three positions of authority in the Assembly: chairman of the Senate's influential subcommittee on health; chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, which approves or blocks and sometimes helps to shape the appointment of judges and other officials selected by the governor; and chairman of the Assembly's Black Caucus.

His political alliances with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller gave him even more authority. Legislative communities -- lobbyists, lawmakers and bureaucrats -- respond to those who have power and a willingness to use it for friends or against enemies.

Resilience in the face of troubles further burnished his image as a unique member of the Assembly -- "the undead," he was called by one member of the health community in mordant tribute to these powers.

No one was more impressed with this power than Young himself, according to close associates.

"His feet got way, way off the ground," one anonymous associate said -- not an unusual failing among people who climb quickly into positions of influence.

Born politician

Born and raised in Baltimore's inner city, Young was the seventh child of a restaurant cook who died in 1967, the same year the future senator graduated from Edmondson High School. He embraced politics early, joining many youth organizations in his Harlem Park neighborhood. More than anything, he said later, he wanted to lead.

"I used to go to City Council meetings on Mondays after school and just watch them," Young told an interviewer 10 years ago. "Between 1962 and 1972, there wasn't an activity that involved young people that I wasn't a leader or participant."

With support from West Baltimore's politically influential Mitchell family -- he was getting advice from U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell before he even graduated from high school -- Young was elected to the state legislature in 1974 at age 24.

He ran on a ticket headed by Parren Mitchell's nephew, former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III -- a son of Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., who, as Washington lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, engineered passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. President Lyndon B. Johnson called him the "101st" senator.

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