Arundel Senate candidate faces uphill battle Newcomer DeNucci challenges incumbent Astle in 30th District

October 12, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

In a steady early-morning rain on the side of Route 2 in Edgewater recently, Peter James De-Nucci smiled and waved to passing motorists and hoped for a supportive honk. Maybe thumbs-up sign.

Many motorists responded to the determination of the Republican underdog. DeNucci is hoping those same people will appear at the polls Nov. 3 to help him wrest the District 30 Senate seat from longtime Democratic officeholder John C. Astle.

Political observers say DeNucci, a US Airways pilot and relative unknown who moved to Annapolis a year ago, has to do a lot more than wave and hope. He's running against an extremely well-liked incumbent who served 12 years in the House of Delegates and now sits on the Senate ethics committee.

Much work to do

"What race?" joked Minor Carter, president of Annapolis' Ward One Association, a group in a critical voting area in District 30. "The name recognition of John Astle's challenger is not very well known. John has worked very hard for his constituents and done a good job.

"His challenger has a great deal of work to do to get his name out to the general public," Carter said.

To his critics, 38-year-old De-Nucci says, "Sure, people are saying I'm the token Republican. They're saying this will never work, and they're asking me, 'Why bother?'

"My view in life is that if you stick to your vision, you stick to your dreams and you ask for God's help, it will happen," DeNucci said. "Going against the odds is what I've done all my life."

The Wisconsin native said he moved to Annapolis from Atlanta because, after 13 years of flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he fell in love with the state's capital.

A graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., DeNucci began flying in the early 1980s and then taught flying. About two years ago, he said, his doctors diagnosed him with a degenerative eye disease that they said would eventually blind him.

Not an attack

"They said there was no cure," DeNucci said. "So I began looking into alternative health medicines, and I prayed. And it cured me. I know I'll win, God willing. Just like I knew I would see."

DeNucci is the author of "Captain's Discretion," a book about personal development and management published in 1996. He founded a volunteer group Wings Over America, which recently cleaned up a ball park in Philadelphia.His experience volunteering and teaching, he said, led him to set the improvement of education as his main goal, if he is elected.

"John is a nice guy. He's a charming guy. This is not an attack on John Astle," DeNucci said. "But he's part of a system that hasn't been able to effect a vision for the education system that I would like to see. In the 16 years he's been in office, he could have done more."

As senator, DeNucci says he would create a better working environment to bring together parents, teachers, students and business leaders.

He would also advocate stricter sentencing for people convicted of crimes and recommend new incentives to help people start small businesses.

'Battle between aviators'

Astle describes DeNucci as a "nice guy" also but is banking on voters wanting someone with experience in office.

"This is a battle between aviators," joked Astle, 55, a West Virginia native and retired Marine colonel who served as a pilot in Vietnam. "In this job, there is no time for rest. The thing I love most is helping people solve problems. I am an ombudsman for the people, and I think I've done a good job of it."

Astle, who moved to Annapolis 27 years ago and flies helicopters for Washington Hospital Center, entered politics in 1981 when he ran unsuccessfully for Annapolis mayor. A year later, he won a seat as a delegate and has been a top vote-getter since then in District 30, which comprises Arnold, Annapolis and South County east of Solomons Island Road.

Critics says he is a charter member of the old boy network.

He moved up to the state Senate in 1994, winning the seat left vacant by the retirement of Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, also a Democrat.

A strong business advocate and fiscal conservative, Astle has supported gun control and sponsored tough anti-crime legislation. But he says he is most proud of his work to improve the state's MedEvac system.

Although many believe DeNucci has no chance of winning, Astle says he is taking the Republican's bid seriously.

Ready for a fight

"I don't like to fight. I don't look for fights," Astle said. "But there's a part of me that says if it's worth fighting for, it's worth dying for. So don't take me on unless you're willing to take that risk. That goes for my political life as well."

Proof of Astle's popularity came last year when his 23-year-old son, David, died in an Eastern Shore car accident after a hunting trip.

Hundreds of politicians, friends and constituents went to the funeral to pay their respects.

"I am sure [DeNucci] is a perfectly fine human being, but I don't think anyone has any expectation that Astle will be unseated," said Gilbert Renaut, a former Ward One Association president. "Astle's just too popular a guy."

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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