NO VOTE IN the motion to expel Larry Young from the Maryland Senate was more surprising than Sen. Christopher J. McCabe's.
More attention has gone to Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a black Democrat from Baltimore who abstained from voting on the fate of her colleague from the city. Critics have all but labeled her a traitor to her race for failing to support Mr. Young, although her conscience led her to indecision.
But Mr. McCabe's decision to vote against expelling Mr. Young from his senatorial seat in Baltimore's 44th Legislative District was even more intriguing.
Mr. McCabe is white, Republican and suburban. On the surface, he would seem to have little politically in common with Mr. Young, a Democrat whose downfall has sparked support among African-Americans whose experiences of discrimination convince them that he was targeted because of race.
The senator from Ellicott City, in fact, was the only white Republican and one of only two whites among the 10 senators who voted against expulsion.
The vote did not go unnoticed. The senator says he has received 15 to 20 electronic-mail messages from constituents and others, some of them "outraged" and "appalled" by his vote not to expel a senator who was found to violate ethics laws. Another writer, in a letter to The Sun, called Mr. McCabe's vote "seriously misguided."
"It sent the wrong signal to those of us who wish our representatives to take their oath of office far more seriously than did Mr. Young," David Hantman of Columbia wrote in his letter published on this page a week ago.
The vote begged for explanation. Politics could not have been a factor. Few Larry Young supporters could be expected to live in Mr. McCabe's 14th District, which is 88 percent white. Mr. McCabe is no personal friend of Mr. Young's, either. He says he hardly knows the former senator, despite having served with him for seven years.
Mr. McCabe is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He raises money as a development officer at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine. He was elected to the Senate in 1990 as a conservative who urges stiff penalties for repeat criminal offenders. He is an outspoken critic of efforts to expand gambling in Maryland.
He was also a forceful proponent of ethics reform in a movement that tightened the rules on lobbyists who wine, dine and buy gifts for legislators.
So why would an ethics reformer support an ethics rule-breaker? And why would he cast a vote that his constituents might interpret as aligning himself with Mr. Young?
"I had a lot to lose and nothing to gain," he said in an interview in which he tried to explain his vote as he had earlier in replies to e-mail senders.
Yes, he said, he realized that legislators and much of the public believed Mr. Young was guilty of the ethics violations. But he said he was not satisfied with the General Assembly's rapid pace in arriving at the vote to expel. He said he needed more time and a more extensive process.
"At the outset, I was really surprised at President [Thomas V. Mike] Miller's position," he said, referring to the Senate president's decision to conclude the Young matter in a few weeks, before the start of the legislative session.
More thorough investigation
Mr. McCabe said the Senate president could have done a more thorough, more formal investigation. That would have involved a multistep process that would have sent the case through an additional committee with power to probe deeper and to issue subpoenas to the parties involved.
He said ample evidence existed for him to vote to censure Mr. Young. Every senator except Mr. Young himself voted for censure, which likely would have stripped him of his subcommittee chairmanships and all committee assignments. Still, Mr. McCabe says he was not convinced that he had enough information and that the investigation had been thorough enough for him to vote for the strongest possible Senate action against the senator.
"Any member deserves to have the due process where all the information is explored and everyone has a chance to participate," Mr. McCabe added. "When the vote came, my vote not to expel had to do with principles of fairness."
He said it would have been easy to vote for expulsion. He would have gotten no questions, no e-mails, no letters to the editor had he joined fellow Senate Republicans instead of siding with eight members of the Senate Black Caucus and one white Democrat (Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County).
"No one wants to stick out like a sore thumb," he said.
Mr. McCabe was not being a maverick. He was being meticulous. To a fault? Perhaps.
If Mr. McCabe's mission is to vote the way he believes his constituents would, he probably didn't. If his constituents trust him to vote his conscience, he did.
Norris West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.
Pub Date: 2/01/98