Majority leader appeals ruling Blount holds Senate together in crises, says Sen. Hoffman

Campaign 1998

August 28, 1998|By Ivan Penn and Caitlin Francke | Ivan Penn and Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported that state Sen. Clarence W. Blount was the first African-American to become chairman of a standing committee in the Maryland General Assembly. Blount was the first African-American to chair a standing committee in the state Senate.

The Sun regrets the error.

He's the one who builds bridges when troubles arise in Maryland's General Assembly. And as the Senate's majority leader, he has a powerful voice that can push a bill into law.

All that may soon change.

Sen. Clarence W. Blount -- the West Baltimore lawmaker whose nearly 28 years in the Senate has earned him the respect of most in the 188-member legislature -- is on the verge of being bumped out of Maryland politics because a judge has ruled that he doesn't live in the district he represents.


Blount filed an appeal yesterday to have Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Michael E. Loney's decision overturned, but strong evidence showing that his real home sits outside Baltimore City is making a tough case for the senator.

Taking Blount off the ballot also could deal a blow to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who relies on Blount to bring a consensus on controversial bills and other key decisions. It also could hurt the political influence of Baltimore City and African-Americans throughout Maryland.

"My opinion was that people should have had the opportunity to decide the issue rather than have a circuit court judge from Anne Arundel County decide the fate of Baltimore City voters," Miller said.

Some lawmakers see Blount as an important voice in upcoming decisions such as the redrawing of legislative districts after the 2000 Census and the appointments of committee chairs in the Senate, which currently has no African-Americans in line to run a standing committee.

For these reasons, the lawmakers and the community urged Blount -- the first African-American to become chair of a standing committee in the General Assembly -- to put his name on the 1998 ballot, even though he had planned to retire.

Boston criticized

Blount's supporters yesterday criticized Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., who filed the lawsuit over Blount's residence, for endangering Baltimore's political stability and that of the African-American community.

"In fact, Frank Boston acted like a Judas to his community," said Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, a Baltimore delegate and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "This is more brutal than a stab in the back."

Added Sen. Barbara Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee: "It isn't just that he's the dean. When we're in crisis in the Senate, it's always been Clarence Blount who has held us together. When he does speak, people listen. I wouldn't want to be Frank Boston."

At a rally yesterday, Blount said election politics also played a role in Boston's challenge.

"I wanted to retire but this governor needs your help and he needs my help," Blount said. "The reason I'm in this trouble right now is because I support this governor."

Boston, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, filed suit against Blount after launching an extensive investigation into where the senator lives. Boston charged that Blount lived in Baltimore County, not in the 41st District in West Baltimore, and should be removed from the election ballot.

Nights spent in Pikesville

Blount admitted in court that he sleeps most nights in a condominium he and his wife own in Pikesville.

But his attorneys argued in court that legally he qualified to represent the 41st District because he rented an apartment there. They relied in part on a 1984 attorney general's opinion that lists 20 elements that can determine someone's residence -- including where the politician votes.

The law that defines what politicians must do to meet the residency requirements for election has been challenged many times and the resulting case law has made it vague, said Deputy Attorney General Carmen M. Shepard.

"There's been a lot of questions," Shepard said. "Any time you have people who own property in more than one district [the residency issue] is going to come up."

Residency concerns have been trouble for Blount since he began his pursuit of public office. In 1967, Blount sought inclusion on the ballot for the Constitutional Convention, but Maryland courts ruled that he had not lived in his district long enough and could not represent the district in which he had been living.

Out of the running

Sen. Clarence Blount has been ordered to be removed from the 41st Legislative District ballot. He is Appealing

The district: The 41st Legislative District includes the neighborhoods of Pimlico, Forest Park, Ashburton, Edmondson Village and Irvington.

The remaining candidates: Democratic Senate candidates are Frank D. Boston Jr. and Gregory Truitt, Democratic House Candidates are Richard C. Barbee, Nathaniel Bland, Walter Dean, Lisa A. Gladden, Clarice Herbert, Nathaniel T. Oaks, Wendell F. Phillips and Marshall Pittman. There is no Republican primary for either House or Senate.

Salary: $31,591

Term: Four years.

1994 primary turnout: 29 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Republicans.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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