Ex-assistant will run for prosecutor Democrat McCrone vows Tripp case will be campaign issue

McLendon: 'This is his day'

Incumbent Republican to announce run for re-election next week

March 18, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Ellicott City Democrat Timothy J. McCrone said yesterday he will run against Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon because of what he sees as lackluster prosecution and politically motivated decision making.

McCrone vowed to make campaign issues of the Republican incumbent's decision to pass off any investigation of former White House aide Linda R. Tripp, the high turnover rate of prosecutors and what he said was an embarrassingly low jury trial conviction rate.

"We've seen what I would characterize as an abdication of responsibility by the Howard County state's attorney," said McCrone, an attorney and former Howard prosecutor, referring to the Tripp case and others. "I want to see decisions to prosecute based on the law, not on public relations and politics."

McCrone will formally announce his candidacy Wednesday, the day after McLendon plans to announce her bid to run for re-election in November. He is the only Democrat running at this time.

Asked to comment on McCrone's statements, McLendon said: "This is his day. I look forward to an energetic and professional campaign."

McCrone's entry into the race kicks off what is sure to be a hotly contested battle for the $84,800-a-year position. McCrone, a political novice with ties to law enforcement, is well respected within the Howard legal community. McLendon won on a law-and-order campaign during the Republican sweep of the county in 1994 and has maintained a highly visible role with programs geared toward stopping alcohol and drug abuse by teen-agers.

Columbia pollster Brad Coker said McLendon's high-profile position is not necessarily a plus. Courthouse politicians -- a arena that few outside the legal community come in contact with -- sometimes do best when they are seen the least, he said.

"There's been a string of little flare-ups that have come up from time to time," said Coker, referring to the Tripp case and other controversial issues. "She [McLendon] has had some bad press, but she's had some good press, too."

"I suspect that it will be a tough race," said Coker of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research.

Carole Fisher, chairwoman of the Howard County Democratic Central Committee, said McCrone stands a good chance to unseat McLendon because of the Tripp case. McLendon passed off to the state prosecutor any investigation of Tripp, whose secretly taped conversations with a White House intern are at the center of a presidential scandal, saying partisan politics had put her office in an untenable position.

"I think that people are unsure" about McLendon now, Fisher said.

Carol Arscott, a Republican political consultant who is close to McLendon, dismissed Fisher's allegations. McLendon has done a good job as state's attorney and attacked the issues people care about most: juvenile crime and substance abuse, she said.

"My sense is that people appreciate those efforts," Arscott said.

McCrone said he wants to bring the office back the job of prosecuting. In an interview at his office yesterday, the Buffalo, N.Y., native wore a green-print tie in honor of St. Patrick's Day and his Irish heritage. Behind him hung a picture of former President Harry S. Truman, a man McCrone says he admires for his "straightforward style."

McCrone graduated from University of Baltimore School of Law in 1981. He then took a job in Howard County's Office of Law as legal adviser to the police force. A Howard prosecutor for six years, McCrone became supervisor of the office's narcotics team before leaving in 1991 to go into private practice.

He is the attorney for the police union and defended two jail officers in controversial prosecutions last year by McLendon's office. All were cleared of charges.

McCrone said those cases were motivated by McLendon's desire for publicity. Criticizing McLendon's decision on Linda Tripp, he said he would have initiated at least a preliminary investigation of the Columbia woman -- and "would not dump [the case] on the state prosecutor."

McCrone said he reviewed the office's jury trial conviction rates over the past three years and calls them "an embarrassment." He did not provide details.

McLendon's "advertisement about being every criminal's worst nightmare is now a complete joke," McCrone said.

Part of the problem, he said, could be the high turnover rate among prosecutors. Nearly half of the office's 22 positions have been vacated since February 1996 amid grumbling about McLendon's management style.

"I want to stabilize the state's attorney's office," McCrone said. "They are not all leaving because they have wonderful places to go."

McLendon has said that she's not concerned about the turnover rate because often lawyers use the job as a career step.

Among McCrone's supporters are three of the 10 prosecutors who have left the office during McLendon's tenure.

Janine Rice, who left in December 1996, said McCrone is "a prosecutor's prosecutor." She criticized one of McLendon's touted programs, Community Justice, as designed "to heighten awareness of Marna McLendon's name in the community."

McCrone "is about getting the job done," Rice said.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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