Same party, but not a team Democratic delegates run for re-election without forming ticket

Ad blamed for disunity

August 09, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

A free-for-all election campaign in a newly redrawn legislative district ends with Democrats sweeping all four seats. Now, four years later, the incumbents seeking re-election are working together to ensure the entire team's return to Annapolis, right?


In northwestern Baltimore County's 11th Legislative District, the three Democratic delegates have staked their distance from one another in the Sept. 15 primary. With the delegates failing to form a ticket, state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, the fourth Democrat running for re-election from the district, is backing Robyn I. Stevens -- her former aide.

"I don't hold myself out to be any kind of political boss," said Hollinger, who is running unopposed. "But I do believe in mentorship."

"If there had been an incumbents ticket, I would have supported it," she added.

Traditionally, state lawmakers from the same party and district form tickets to fend off challenges. The three delegates -- Michael J. Finifter, Robert L. Frank and Dr. Dan K. Morhaim -- publicly insist that their decision to run separate re-election campaigns is simply a reprise of the strategy that made them winners in 1994.

But those who have watched the 11th District's delegation in Annapolis blame the failure to form a ticket on a shaky relationship between Frank and the others.

The lack of unity is seen as diluting the district's influence in Annapolis and making the incumbents more vulnerable on Election Day.

"Now is a good time to run," said Stevens, former president of the Young Democrats of Maryland and a program director for the Baltimore Zionist District. "When incumbents are running together, that's hard to break."

"With Paula in the Senate and me in the House, it's going to facilitate more teamwork for the district," said Stevens, who is 27.

Other Democrats running for the district's three delegate seats are Robert A. "Bobby" Zirkin, a recent law school graduate and Clinton activist; and Theodore Levin, a former delegate.

Need for teamwork

Levin, a delegate from 1975 until he was voted out of office in 1994, said a division among the incumbents was a key reason he has stayed in this year's race.

"If the local delegation is the laughingstock of Annapolis, then they are going to have problems getting things through," he said.

Zirkin is courting the district's young voters, at one point raising money by throwing a $10-a-head dance that he said drew about 500 supporters. Zirkin, 27, said he has raised $60,000 and hopes to have as much as $80,000 -- eyebrow-raising figures for a

young, first-time candidate.

"My reasons for running have nothing to do with the delegates that are in there now," he said, adding that in door-to-door campaigning that began a year ago he has emphasized proposals such as state financial incentives for making public schools' classes smaller.

About the current delegates, he says: "When incumbents don't run together, there are obviously some problems. I'm quite close to Mike Finifter, and I tend to agree with Dan Morhaim on the issues."

'Point of alienation'

That leaves Frank -- the name that most often comes up first when political observers try to make sense of the split in the delegation. In those circles, Frank is still remembered for a campaign-funded newspaper advertisement that left fellow county politicians fuming.

The ad credited Frank with "taking the lead" in securing millions in state money for school construction in Baltimore County. Fellow politicians claimed that he did little more than cast a vote on the state budget.

Hollinger, a veteran of two decades in the legislature, said, "Unfortunately, what Bob did was a point of alienation for a lot of people. It's sort of like the ants-in-the-pants syndrome when you get here and have to immediately do things and prove you're a leader."

Frank, an electrical engineer and attorney from Reisterstown, said hard feelings over the ad have faded. He pointed out that Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who was strongly critical of the ad, lobbied for one of his bills this year.

Asked why the delegates aren't running as a ticket, Frank said, "I'm not sure there's an answer to that. I'm not sure it's going to make a big difference."

Constituent satisfaction

"This election will come down to one question: Have the people representing this district done what they were elected to do? In the case of Bob Frank, they have," he said.

Frank boasts that he successfully sponsored 28 bills in his first term, including one that tripled the number of days insurance companies are required to provide maintenance drug prescriptions.

Similarly, Finifter and Morhaim are campaigning on their records, pointing to the school construction money -- more than $75 million in the past four years, the largest windfall ever for county schools -- as a significant achievement.

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