Blount ordered off Sept. primary ballot Judge agrees senator doesn't live in district that he represents

August 27, 1998|By Caitlin Francke and Ivan Penn | Caitlin Francke and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers William F. Zorzi and Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, whose nearly 28 years as a state lawmaker earned him a reputation as the conscience of the Maryland Senate, was ordered off next month's Democratic primary ballot last night after a judge ruled he did not live in the Baltimore district he represents.

Blount's attorneys announced an immediate appeal in the case. Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Michael E. Loney delayed his order until Tuesday at 5 p.m. or until the state Court of Appeals acts.

The decision was prompted by a lawsuit by Blount's opponent in the primary, state Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., who launched an expensive and exhaustive investigation into Blount's residency. He charged that the senator lived in Pikesville and not in the 41st District and should be struck from the ballot.

Blount acknowledged in court that he sleeps most nights at his Pikesville condominium.

Loney said Blount had served with "honor and distinction" but was "not eligible to stand for election." In ordering Blount's name stricken from the ballot and new ones printed, Loney said: "To permit otherwise would distort the integrity of the electoral process."

Interviewed on the steps of the Annapolis courthouse, Blount said: "I'm not crying and I'm not dying. I feel sorry more for the quality of representation and the choice that people have now on the ballot."

Blount, 77, also reiterated his belief that he meets the legal qualifications for residency by renting an apartment on Copley Road in Northwest Baltimore for $375 a month. "One doesn't spend money on a facility that you think is not your domicile." Boston had argued that the home was just a mail drop.

Boston, who was in the courtroom when Loney read his decision, embraced his attorney. He said: "I think justice has been done. I think this is a clear victory for the people who live in and love the 41st legislative district."

Boston, a member of the House of Delegates since 1987, is a Baltimore native and is chairman of the city's House delegation. He has been a member of the House Economic Matters Committee since 1995. He is 59.

The case turned on an interpretation of the state law governing residency.

Although lawmakers can own multiple properties, state law requires that they have one legal residence. Past court cases have concluded that an official residence is the place where legislators sleep and is used as a voting address.

Evidence in the three-day trial "clearly indicates" that Blount did not live in the apartment he called home, Loney said.

Evidence showed that Blount has not owned property in Baltimore since 1987. The Copley Road apartment had no telephone and only a futon in the living room for the senator to sleep on.

Blount's personal driver testified that he had picked up Blount at the apartment only once in 1998. Blount acknowledged in court that he spent about three nights a month at the Northwest Baltimore home.

Car insurance records showed that while Blount has claimed Copley Road as his address, cars belonging to him and his wife have been kept at their homes in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County for nearly a decade.

"The reality is he's been gone for a long time," said Boston's attorney, Steven A. Allen.

Yesterday in 6 1/2 hours on the witness stand, Blount testified that he and his wife lived at the Copley Road house until 1973 when they bought a larger home in the 41st District. In 1987, he testified, he sold both homes to build a home on waterfront property his wife had inherited in Anne Arundel County. He started paying rent to the new owner of the Copley Road home. In 1995, he purchased the condominium in Pikesville.

He testified that his stepson lived at the Copley Road home. Blount said he received mail, held some meetings there and slept there on occasion.

In sometimes heated cross-examination, Blount defended his use of the home. The fact that it had no phone meant nothing, he testified, because he rarely gets calls at night.

"So you don't need a phone to be the Senate majority leader?" Allen asked Blount.

"Not at home," Blount testified. "I have a phone in my office and that's where they reach me."

Blount had planned to retire at the end of his term, but supporters, friends and constituents urged him to reconsider in June.

Yesterday's decision may mean the end of a career of a man who rose from working the fields of an old tobacco plantation in Beaufort County, N.C., to become one of the most influential lawmakers in Maryland.

"For a statesman such as he, who has done so much for this city and the state, to have him and his family disgraced in this manner is despicable," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city's Senate delegation before the ruling. "You just wouldn't think that someone would stoop to filming his wife and his refrigerator."

The Senate's majority leader since 1983, Blount is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's right-hand man. Blount, known by his colleagues as "the conscience of the Maryland Senate," is also Baltimore's senior senator.

In 1987, Miller named Blount, his close friend, chairman of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, making him the first black legislator to chair a standing committee of the Maryland Senate. Blount has held the post since that time.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat from Allegany County, said last night that Blount was a "bridge builder," who worked to bring city legislators together with those from around the state to resolve conflicts.

"I deeply regret that Senator Blount's career has to end on this kind of note because he's had an outstanding career and he has immense respect among his colleagues," said Taylor. He said Blount's long record of service may have been why admirers in the 41st District persuaded him to put his name on the ballot one more time.

"I think he was overly persuaded to run, against his own intuition," Taylor said.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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