Young's ouster brings distress to community A 'lesson' to officials or 'vigilante' action?

Senate Expels Young

January 17, 1998|By Craig Timberg and Robert Guy Matthews | Craig Timberg and Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Jonathan Weisman, Brenda J. Buote and Stacey P. Patton contributed to this article.

Baltimoreans greeted the news of Larry Young's expulsion from the state Senate yesterday with more sadness than anger, more weariness than surprise. And many wondered whether his transgressions point to broader ethical troubles among legislators.

"I regret that he, it appears, has been guilty of the 11th Commandment -- the sin of getting caught," said Rev. Marion C. Bascom, retired minister of Douglas Memorial Community Church in West Baltimore.

"At the same time, I am confident that this will be a lesson to all elected officials that they must clean up their act."

Many made similar comments yesterday after the Senate voted 36-10, with one member abstaining, to expel Young for having used his public office for private gain, including collecting thousands of dollars in consulting fees as well as a $24,800 Lincoln Town Car.

Young's supporters acknowledged some ethical shortcomings yesterday but vowed to check the backgrounds of all the senators who voted against him.

"By no means is he an angel," said Rev. John L. Wright, president of the United Baptist Missionary Convention of Maryland. "He's a person who like all of us made mistakes."

But Wright also called yesterday's expulsion too severe and too swift a punishment, comparing it to a "lynching" by "vigilantes." Callers made similar comments on WOLB, a Baltimore radio station that airs a Young radio talk show and has a largely African-American audience.

"The lynching is over and everybody's scrambling away from the tree," said one caller. "This is a clear example of the white power structure knocking you down when you get too uppity."

But such rhetoric was rebuked by Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a former congressman whose district overlapped the West Baltimore Senate district Young represented.

"By using the nomenclature of race rhetoric to suggest that this is solely a racial issue, a great dishonor has been brought to bear on the process and a great disservice has been perpetuated on the citizens of Baltimore," said Mfume in a prepared statement.

Some in Young's West Baltimore district took yesterday's vote as a call to action. A rally is scheduled for Monday. Supporters also plan new voter-registration drives.

"Now that the Senate has spoken, it is time for the people of Baltimore to speak," said community activist Ruth Ann Davis.

"And I think that the people want Larry Young back. We want him to continue doing good for not just black people but all people."

But away from Young's West Baltimore stronghold -- where he has nurtured community support for decades -- reaction to yesterday's expulsion was more varied.

"I feel Larry should have resigned to save the community at large the pain of what took place in the General Assembly at Annapolis," said Rev. Anthony Johnson, vice president of Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore.

Larry Shugarman, an activist in the Pimlico neighborhood, said, "Since he did wrong, he should take the consequences."

Many also doubted that Young was targeted because he's black.

"I'm just very suspect when the race card is drawn all the time. I don't feel like it's racial," said Karen Evans of the Northwest Baltimore Corp. "There have been enough Caucasian politicians that have been prosecuted and gone to jail that you can't say it's racism."

Young's expertise in the health care field won him both praise and a powerful chairmanship overseeing such issues. Senate leaders stripped him of that chairmanship Wednesday, after the ethics committee reported abuses.

Yesterday, William L. Jews, chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maryland, praised Young's work on health care issues.

"Without question, the senator was extraordinarily knowledgeable and capable and provided a balanced perspective of health care issues," Jews said. "He was a powerful advocate for health care. Filling his shoes will be extremely difficult."

Community leaders also worried about Baltimore's power in the legislature now that Young, a 24-year veteran who has had chairmanships in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, is gone.

"It's sad when anything like this happens," said Judy Fritsche of the Harbel Community Organization in Northeast Baltimore. "And does affect the whole city."

Jean Yarborough, president of the Park Heights Networking Community Council, said a city struggling to burnish its image and attract new businesses can ill afford the publicity of the Young scandal.

"Those people who are in politics have a hard enough job," she said. "Baltimore is fighting for its life right now. To see us fight our own politicians, that's not the message we should be sending."

Pub Date: 1/17/98

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