Naivete a poor excuse for veteran like Young

January 18, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In yesterday's edition, columnist Michael Olesker incorrectly stated that state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, voted Friday against expelling Larry Young from the Maryland Senate.

In fact, Kelley abstained.

The Sun regrets the error.

IN THE FINAL hour of his life as a state senator, Larry Young defended himself by entering a plea of naivete.

After 24 years in the Maryland legislature, he said, "I didn't know." He meant, he didn't know about conflicts of interest. He said, "I made a mistake." He meant, about taking big money under the table from financially strapped Coppin State College.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

He said, "I didn't know I was out of line." He meant, about taking big money from a health care firm wishing to do business with the state. He said, "I took the car, but. " He wanted it understood, the car certainly shouldn't be considered a payoff for taking care of an ambulance company seeking Young's help steering state business in the right direction.

"Several times," said Sen. Michael Collins, co-chairman of the ethics committee that investigated Young, "you've said you didn't know. This is incredible, untenable and unworthy."

That the Senate voted 36 to 10 to expel Young from the legislature is, in a way, secondary. All those who have defended him, who have filled the radio airwaves with rage, who have taken Young at his word, who bought it when he first claimed he'd done nothing wrong, need to focus on the other vote taken Friday, the vote of censure, which, in itself, is extraordinary.

That vote was 46 to 1.

When it arrived, Larry Young looked up from his Senate seat and shook his head sadly. He was all alone. The only one in the whole Senate who voted not to censure Young was Larry Young.

This fact may have been lost on some observers, including those who listen to WOLB radio. The station has been vitriolic for the past week and has stunningly misinformed its listeners, choosing to portray Young as an innocent man being railroaded by an entrenched network of old white boys instead of as a politician who sold out his constituents.

But on the day of expulsion, even Young's defenders couched their language like this:

"The [ethics committee] was right to vote for him to be removed from his committees and censured," said Sen. Decatur Trotter, of Prince George's County.

"Obviously, he's erred," said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of Baltimore. "The Coppin arrangement troubles me no end. Has he made some mistakes? Yes."

"I wish I didn't have to speak," said Baltimore Sen. Clarence Blount. The majority leader said he'd agonized over his vote until 5 in the morning. He said it was the toughest decision he'd ever had to make. But, he said, "you don't use your heavy guns to kill a muskrat."

And then there was Sen. Delores Kelley, who happens to teach at Coppin State. She voted against expulsion, but she looked at the $34,000 Coppin had slipped Young, allegedly to help the financially enfeebled college and its students, and she thought about the work never done to warrant the money paid to Young, and she said:

"I'm waiting to see how many scholarships. How many preachers were approached for help? Where was the work done? I love that school. It does great work with limited resources. There were no deliveries for the money. Where was the beef? What was done for Coppin State? I'm worried about the black masses."

That's the message that hasn't come over the radio. This wasn't about the persecution of Larry Young; it's about one man slipping a series of deals past the very people who had placed their faith in him.

He knew, from the moment this newspaper published its first articles about him, that he'd abused his position, knew he'd RTC taken money nobody was supposed to know about, knew he'd put himself in compromised positions, knew he'd done work for money that he was supposed to do because it's his job, knew he'd hurt an institution that was created to help black youngsters historically shunted aside.

He could have taken the high road but chose instead to go elsewhere. There were hints that "others" have their own secrets, although Young names no one. There was talk of race. And there were airwaves filled with poisonous talk, all offered in the defense of Larry Young. And all of it hurts this community as much as the very acts for which Young was expelled last week.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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