Marylanders weary of too much information about sex scandal

September 13, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

Even in this contentious election season, when all is political, Marylanders appear to agree on one thing: They are thoroughly tired of the sex scandal that threatens to drag down Bill Clinton's presidency.

They know all about the details of President Clinton's sexual activities with Monica Lewinsky, as recounted by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report. They know about the ties, the lies, the books, the longing looks and the late-night calls. And, armed with all this knowledge, many people said they feel they know far too much about their president.

They just want the scandal to go away.

"The sense in my house is, leave the man alone," said Eric Goden, 44, watching his daughter, Jobi, a cheerleader for Owings Mills High, march in the Reisterstown parade yesterday morning in west Baltimore County. "Big deal. It's not like he made a mistake, crashed a car and killed three little kids."

"I think it's terrible that it took place, but he's human," Beverly Henry, 57, a teaching assistant in the Baltimore City school system, said at a rally against crime at Mount Moriah Baptist Church in West Baltimore. "I just pray that it blows over and God treats him kindly. He's been just as good as many of the rest of them."

In interviews with 20 Marylanders yesterday, most of them Democrats, all talked of the distaste with which they view Clinton's sexual exploits, as alleged in the Starr report made public Friday. A few people, none of whom had voted for Clinton, said he would serve the country best by stepping down. But even these people said they wanted his resignation so the controversy would end.

"I've got mixed emotions," said John Duenas, a 44-year-old shipping consultant from Reisterstown. "He's the top dog of the United States and what he's done is totally improper. In my mind, he has lost his credibility. "But," added Duenas, who voted against Clinton twice, "I'm pretty sick of hearing of the improprieties."

Overwhelmingly, those Marylanders interviewed said they had little stomach for the prospect of impeachment for offenses stemming from affairs of the heart rather than affairs of state.

It is in heavily Democratic areas like these, in the western parts of the city and county, that the president's fate is likely to be decided. If Democrats abandon Clinton in large numbers, lawmakers say, it will prove much more difficult for sympathetic members of Congress to defend the president should the House proceed with impeachment hearings.

"Clearly, it's the conversation of the country," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat whose district includes predominantly white Reisterstown. "I hear people [are] angry that we have to cope with this."

Among Maryland lawmakers to date, the extremes have been defined by Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican who called Friday for the president's resignation, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who has been a consistent defender. Those in the middle are keeping as low a profile as possible.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, after taking note of a reporter at the Mount Moriah Church rally, in a heavily black neighborhood, lashed out at a media culture that, she said, sought to make beleaguered public officials like her render judgment too quickly on those accused of wrongdoing.

"My job is not to be a commentator," Mikulski said. "My job is to be a legislator. My job is not to talk about allegations. My job is to talk about the agenda."

After her address, the normally voluble Mikulski, who has previously been outspoken when prominent public officials have been accused of sexual misconduct, had little to say about the Starr report. She said she might have to serve as a juror on impeachment charges and that it would be inappropriate to comment.

She also said she hadn't looked at the nation's newest must-read and would do so only at the appropriate time. Asked when that time might be, she said: "This weekend I need to be talking with my constituents. I've got a busy schedule -- I've been in Fells Point today, now I'm here [in West Baltimore].

"My full-time job now is to be working on the agenda."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who made national news last weekend by canceling a fund-raiser with Clinton, also avoided a reporter's questions yesterday. "The governor's said what he has to say on this," said Peter Hamm, a campaign spokesman.

Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat, also declined yesterday to comment. Cummings was expected to give the rally's main speech, but instead he went to the White House along with Rep. Charles B. Rangel, a New York Democrat, to observe Clinton give his weekly radio address.

Those who attended the midday Baltimore rally were offered a consistent stream of sermons that coupled morality with forgiveness and redemption -- themes that played in the president's favor. Many attendees agreed.

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