James calls on history Roots: In Harford County, a new candidate with an old name gets the support of a few family friends.

The Political Game

June 30, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

FEW FIRST-TIME candidates for the Maryland House of Delegates get the kind of high-powered support as is being thrown behind Mary-Dulany James.

James, 38, is running for one of two open seats from Harford County's 34th legislative district, and her list of supporters sounds like a Who's Who of the Maryland Democratic Party.

A former U.S. senator, two former governors, four past presidents of the Maryland Senate and the current one are playing host to James' $100-a-head fund-raiser July 8. And House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who ordinarily remains neutral in such races, blessed her candidacy at the campaign kickoff Sunday at Old Bay Farm, the James family home in Havre de Grace.

"I grew up around many of these people, and, for me, it feels like a lot of my family has come out to support me," James said, likening the lineup to "a wonderful group of political uncles."

She is, you see, the daughter of the late William S. James, the highly respected former president of the Maryland Senate and state treasurer.

But James, a lawyer and mother of two, is no slouch herself. She's a partner at Venable, Baetjer and Howard and active in a variety of civic causes.

She is also well aware that while she may be Billy James' daughter, she's "not the heir to anything."

"I have to earn this," James said. "I don't think anyone should vote for me unless they think I'm a credible candidate who can do an effective job down in Annapolis."

The hosts at the Baltimore fund-raiser will be former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings (who resides three farms south of the Jameses); former Govs. Marvin Mandel and Harry R. Hughes; the four former state Senate presidents -- Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, former Sen. James Clark Jr. and former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg -- and the current president, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The support from the party's hierarchy certainly doesn't hurt in what promises to be a very crowded primary race.

"But what really matters," James said, "is what the voters think."

Some reservations about political ethics

Mr. Senate Ethics is apparently pushing the envelope in his fund-raising efforts.

Sen. Michael J. Collins, co-chairman of the legislature's ethics committee, recently mailed out invitations to his fund-raiser at Martin's Eastwind in Essex. Reservations for the July 1 cocktail party, he wrote, would be handled by the secretary at his district office.

The trouble is, Maryland lawmakers are forbidden from running their re-election campaigns out of their state-funded district offices. An ethics guide, distributed by Collins' committee, notes that "the use of the title, office and official stationery are reserved for General Assembly business and customary constituent services."

But Collins, who faces a tough re-election battle this year, sees no problem with the arrangement.

"I don't see it as using state resources in any way," Collins told Sun reporter JoAnna Daemmrich.

"It did occur to me that maybe [my secretary] shouldn't take these calls, but there's no place else to receive them," he said. "I don't have an answering machine at home, and our campaign headquarters aren't open yet."

Ironically, Collins' invitations to the $100-a-ticket fund-raiser went out the same week he participated in a lengthy debate over guidelines for the appropriate use of district offices. Collins is a member of a commission that is reviewing ethics standards for Maryland's part-time legislature in the wake of this year's embarrassments (one state senator was ousted for ethics violations and a delegate resigned amid an ethics probe).

Collins, a Democrat who represents eastern Baltimore County and a sliver of Harford County, said he returns campaign calls from home and there will be "no expense to the state" from incoming calls.

His secretary is simply keeping track of ticket sales, he said, and she often puts in overtime for free, which will make up the difference for time she might have spent on constituent calls.

But the head of a self-styled citizens watchdog group says Collins should have been more careful.

"It's the old camel's nose in the tent," says Kathleen S. Skullney, director of Common Cause/Maryland.

"Using a secretary might only be the camel's nose, but the question is, how long does it take to get the whole camel in?" Skullney asked. "If you take seriously the separation between the public's business and the politician's partisan political business, then any part of that partisan business raises a question of propriety."

Running mate runner-up lands spot as co-chair

In the "Tell our runners-up what we have for them today, Jay" department: After being rejected as Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's running mate, Michael Steele will be on the team after all.

Sauerbrey has picked Steele, a Prince George's County lawyer and chairman of the county's GOP central committee, to be yet another co-chair of her campaign for governor.

Pub Date: 6/30/98

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