Senate battle turns rough District 32 candidates accuse each other of ethical breaches

October 18, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The race for the state Senate in District 32 is getting ugly.

The candidates stepped up their attacks on each other last week with dueling news releases, mailings and venom-dripping sound bites.

District 32 stretches along the northwestern border of Anne Arundel County from Maryland City to Linthicum and includes Glen Burnie and parts of Severn.

Incumbent Sen. C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Republican seeking his second term, has loosed several missives accusing his opponent, Democrat James "Ed" DeGrange, of unethically receiving payments from a developer, favoring lifetime welfare benefits and wanting to abolish the death penalty.

DeGrange, a county councilman who had said he would try to keep his campaign focused on issues, responded Friday with a strongly worded statement. It accused Middlebrooks of "bold-faced lies" and said the senator supported certain judgeship appointments to bail out of a financial mess.

The negative campaign tactics likely will not win voters for either side, said Helen R. Fister, outgoing chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Central Committee of Anne Arundel County.

"Voters do not appreciate the negative campaigns on personal issues," said Fister, who has not seen the charges the candidates are making against each other. "It's like two little boys in a schoolyard calling each other names. Both these gentlemen have held responsible office, so they should have things they can point to while they have been in office."

But it's not unusual for candidates to trade barbs near the end of a campaign, said Fister. "Sometimes, the worst things are said a day or two before the election, and there is no way to refute it."

After releasing the statement, DeGrange said he could no longer ignore the charges by Middlebrooks.

"I certainly didn't want to take this type of approach, but I can't allow him to continue the way he has in the past, twisting things," DeGrange said. "My reputation is too important to me to allow him to go unanswered."

DeGrange's response to Middlebrooks' attacks came a day after the senator accused him of accepting consulting fees from a developer who had been cited with building code violations.

The $2,500 in payments and DeGrange's trips to the developer's home in Las Vegas were "a clear violation of ethics," Middlebrooks said in the statement, which also compared DeGrange with expelled state Sen. Larry Young.

DeGrange said in the interview that he was merely helping a friend by training his sons in the home-building business, not using his influence as a councilman to smooth code violations. He had accusations of his own for Middlebrooks, hinging on the senator's 1995 bankruptcy filing.

"The truth is that Mr. Middlebrooks is not a leader who can manage the Maryland budget," DeGrange said in the statement. "He cheated his creditors, defrauded the IRS, violated campaign finance laws six times and bailed himself out of his financial extravagance by delivering judgeships and appointments."

Middlebrooks said he was shocked by the charges.

"This is just gutter politics from Mr. DeGrange," he said. "I'm just shocked he's going down this road. It's just desperate."

Middlebrooks said he paid the outstanding IRS taxes listed in the filing and that he filed for bankruptcy because real estate investments went sour, not because he was living extravagantly.

He chafed at DeGrange's charge that he supported the appointment of former county prosecutor Megan Beth Johnson to a District Court judgeship because he was unable to repay a second mortgage she held.

"That doesn't even make a hill of beans of sense," he said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed Johnson to the District Court in November 1997. Johnson held a second mortgage on a rental property in the county that Middlebrooks bought in the 1980s, he said.

Middlebrooks said he supported the appointment of Johnson, a longtime friend, but called any suggestion that the move was improper a lie and said he had no financial ties to Johnson after filing for bankruptcy.

Johnson was on vacation out of state and could not be reached, according to her office.

The District 32 Senate race probably is the most contentious in the county except for the race for county executive, said Kathleen A. Shatt, incoming chairwoman of the county Democratic Central Committee.

"When candidates are attacked, they have a responsibility and a right to come back and focus on what the truth is," Shatt said. "I think we have to have faith in that the voters out there are bright and intelligent people and have the intelligence to separate fact from fiction."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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