Young campaign prowered either by moxie or desparir

June 04, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

LARRY YOUNG runs for office on the clear belief that his constituents aren't paying attention. Nothing else explains the naked moxie of a man expelled from the Maryland Senate six months ago who now plans a re-election fund-raiser for next week. What's his campaign slogan: "Elect Me, I Have Not Yet Been Indicted"?

It's probably just a matter of time. Even Young himself, in the grim final hour of his previous life as a state senator, offered the feeblest of defenses. He pleaded naivete. After 24 years in the legislature, after 24 years in which he was regarded as one of the savviest of political insiders, he stood in front of his Senate colleagues last winter and used these phrases:

"I didn't know."

He meant, about conflicts of interest.

"I made a mistake."

He meant, about taking thousands of dollars under the table from financially strapped Coppin State College, and then

performing no work at all for this money, which otherwise could have put more than a score of impoverished kids through school.

"I didn't know I was out of line."

He meant, for taking big money from a health care company angling to do business with the [See Olesker, 4b] state, whose executives knew they had to win favor with the powerful Young.

"I took the car, but"

He meant, about taking a car from an ambulance company doing business with the state.

So pathetic, and so unbelievable, was Young's defense that, when the vote for censure was tallied it was 46 to 1. Only Young voted not to censure Young. And the vote for expulsion was an overwhelming 36 to 10, a vote made more dramatic because it was the first time in more than 200 years that the legislature was forced to make such a gesture of revulsion and contempt.

And now, barely six months later, with prosecutors presenting all sorts of evidence to grand jurors (only this week, they're investigating $91,000 in checks issued by a health care company with close ties to Young), the once-and-perhaps-future state senator is working out last-minute details for a $50-a-head re-election fund-raiser next Thursday at a downtown restaurant, the Baltimore Brewing Company.

Among some political insiders, the thinking behind such a campaign is clear: What else but politics can Young do for a living? He's an expert on health care matters, but so what? Once so lovingly romanced by health care companies hoping for his help in securing lucrative state contracts, he's now become a pariah to them.

He's got his own private business - the LY Group, in West Baltimore, specializing in the business of health care - but that firm's existence depended overwhelmingly on Young's special insider status in state government, and was at the very heart of his Senate expulsion.

"Without that connection," a political insider was saying yesterday, "he can't do anything for these firms. And they can't hire him, because he's damaged goods. So what's he got left but to run for office again, and hope to brazen it out?"

His fund-raiser tickets refer to "State Senator Larry Young" - as though none of this expulsion business ever took place - and call him "hard-working, un-bought, un-bossed." If elected, he would return to the Senate as a member in good standing, assigned to a committee and given the same privileges as any other member - subject to change only if he's criminally convicted out of either state or federal investigations.

Young has remained uncharacteristically quiet through all of this, though some political allies who supported him last winter are not.

Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, for instance. "When you're there for folks, people don't forget," Mitchell said.

That's willfully superficial and misleading, and Mitchell knows it. In fact, it touches on the great tragedy of Larry Young. Yes, he understood his constituents' troubles and worked to alleviate them. Yes, their needs are some of the greatest in the state. For many years, those with political muscle in Annapolis neglected the problems of West Baltimore, for reasons relating to race, to money, and to sheer indifference.

When Young arrived, he learned the insider's game, learned how to trade favors, learned how to turn out the vote, learned how to use power in constructive ways.

But he also learned how to manipulate it when he imagined nobody was looking. Grand jurors have been given damning information about Young's financial activities. But, even if there were no criminal investigation, the facts already revealed in public, the pitiful defenses Young has offered, and the gesture of official revulsion by his former colleagues all tell a lamentable story.

For Young to run for re-election in the face of all this is breathtaking. That he might be re-elected could only mean that voters aren't paying attention. If they were, they'd realize they're being played for suckers.

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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