Men of power, promise

October 03, 1999|By C. Fraser Smith

BY VIRTUE of their talents and a well-tended synergy, lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano and legislator Larry Young rose to the top of their professions. Both became power centers, force fields of influence and action.

Even as they progressed, though, friends and colleagues wondered if they weren't heading for calamity. They began to play along the edges -- confident they could avoid a fall.

Bereano was the knowledgeable former staff man who had helped to pass important state laws -- the ethics law and the law providing for a special prosecutor, for example. He was at the same time the soul of conviviality and charm, a man who had a highly developed sense of what motivates other human beings. He was the complete lobbying package.

For legislators, he was a full-service friend, a man of many skills -- with wealthy clients ready to help a Bereano-blessed candidate.

Mr. Young was one of these designees. He was hard-working, quiet-spoken and respectful of elders -- several of whom became his mentors, pushing him quickly to a position of authority, a committee chairmanship.

With Bereano's expert assistance, the young delegate became the assembly's most efficient fund raiser. He and his staff sent out invitations to buy fund-raiser tickets -- and follow-up notices that arrived with the authority of a bill from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

In time, the concerns of friends -- the hopes of enemies -- became manifest.

Federal authorities investigated Bereano, indicting him eventually on mail-fraud charges growing out of fund-raising activities on behalf of clients and candidates.

Mr. Young became a target after his relationship with a health-care company, among other things, raised influence-peddling questions.

Ten days ago, these men of promise found themselves on the same floor of an Anne Arundel County courthouse attempting to protect what remained of their careers. Mr. Young had been expelled from the state Senate two years ago even before the court case, and Bereano, convicted on the federal charges, was seeking to keep his law license.

The convergence of their highs and lows came replete with sadness and object lessons. So much talent wasted, so much success gone to ashes, so much irony.

Mr. Young was acquitted when the state's prosecutor failed to convince a jury that the senator was guilty of bribery and tax evasion.

Some were not surprised by that outcome. Annapolis insiders had smiled in the 1970s when the assembly moved to police itself: not enough power, the cynics said; not enough financial muscle to find facts. The assembly had created a fig leaf.

For Mr. Young, though, the appearance of improper activities moved the state Senate to remove him, asserting its right to decide such matters with regard to its own credibility.

Just down the hall from Mr. Young's trial was a proceeding which could result in disbarment for Bereano. Ultimately, the case will be decided by the Court of Appeals. His best argument may be that he should not be made to pay for the corruption of an entire system, one in which public officials and candidates are at least as culpable as he.

In his defense, Bereano recruited Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, for whom Bereano worked when Mr. Hoyer was president of the Maryland Senate. Former governor Marvin Mandel, himself once convicted of political corruption, spoke for his friend, Bereano, as well. How could he do otherwise? The lobbyist had helped the former governor win a presidential pardon. (Mr. Mandel's conviction, itself, was later overturned.)

Judges, legislators, clients and others trooped into court to say that Bereano should be spared. His mistake, they said, had been a minor one. He is a man of principle, defined more fully and accurately by good works than by one lapse, they said.

From outside Annapolis though -- and certainly in the eyes of the federal authorities -- Bereano's supporters proved the underlying theory of their investigation:

He had too much power, too much influence, too much license in Annapolis.

C. Fraser Smith writes editorials for The Sun. His forthcoming book is "William Donald Schaefer: A Political Biography," (1999), the Johns Hopkins University Press.

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