Good will flows through Assembly

Everyone is upbeat as session opens, but tough battles to follow

January 13, 2000|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

The State House lobby was jammed as the 414th session of the Maryland General Assembly began yesterday in Annapolis.

It was reunion day, bringing together politicians and hangers-on, political wives and political husbands, old hands and young pages with a 90-day pass to the world of law and legislation.

All helped transform the formerly quiet old building into a bustling meeting ground of hearty greetings and handshakes.

"Hey, how are you?" people said.

"Nice to see you!" they replied.

Everybody was upbeat, and why not? The state is sitting on a $1 billion surplus, the largest in its history. There is talk of investing in education and expanding health care. Those proposals have been generally well-received.

But Maryland's 188 legislators and Gov. Parris N. Glendening will face tough battles over gun control, union wages and whether to use some of the surplus to accelerate tax relief to state residents.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. told colleagues that the state's riches could be "a burden or a blessing."

"It is our duty to our citizens to deliberate carefully how to spend these resources," he said. "It is, after all, the people's money."

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who began his day at a Board of Estimates meeting at City Hall, was in Annapolis by late morning, working the lobby and picking up offers of help.

He said the mayors of Frederick and Ocean City and Harford County Executive James M. Harkins volunteered public works equipment and manpower for the city's March 25 spring cleanup.

"People seem optimistic, people are very kind," O'Malley said. "People are all excited about what we're doing in the city of Baltimore."

There was no escaping the sense of good will yesterday. It flowed over everyone. Del. Tony E. Fulton, the Baltimore City Democrat who is fighting a federal indictment on mail and wire fraud charges, didn't seem troubled by the coming court dates. None of his colleagues seemed bothered about his predicament. It was time for rubbing elbows and a hearty slap on the back.

"You see how my colleagues are supporting me? My head is bloody but unbowed," Fulton said before reciting a poem about perseverance. "When you get in these struggles through life, you have to be able to persevere. I don't question it because I know I'm in good hands."

In the lobby, Bruce C. Bereano, one-time king of Maryland lobbyists, greeted reigning lobbying czar Gerard E. Evans with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek that seemed to echo through the tiled hall.

"It feels great to be back," said Evans, who has been indicted with Fulton in an alleged scheme to generate lobbying fees for himself. "You just do your job and hope that people treat you the same way."

Asked whether he felt any nervousness about his return, Evans -- a little trimmer and more gray since last year -- replied: "None. Just the preseason jitters."

Bereano, who survived a 1994 conviction on seven counts of mail fraud and has since returned to walk the legislative halls, said, "I clearly have learned from my own experiences that you stay by your friends. You don't desert friends."

Across the hall, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller cracked jokes and ribbed dignitaries at the upper chamber's ceremonial opening. The Democratic caucus meeting featured the arrival of Anne Arundel Sen. Robert R. Neall, who left the Republican Party in November for what he termed personal reasons. Neall said he felt "terrific" about meeting with his new party colleagues.

"They made me feel very much at home. People have been very gracious," said Neall, who said he's comfortable with the switch. "Once I make up my mind, I move on, and now I'm in the process of making it work."

All over the State House grounds people took up familiar rituals. A crowd of about 200 gathered in front of the building to sing "We Shall Overcome" and wave the red, black and green liberation flag. Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Baltimore City Democrat, said he plans to introduce a bill calling for a special prosecutor to investigate police shootings that are alleged to be unjustified.

He said Glendening forced the issue after failing to meet about a request to have a special prosecutor investigate the fatal shooting of Archie "Artie" Elliott III in 1993 in Prince George's County.

"We must bring justice to those who have been killed by the police," Elliott's mother, Dorothy Elliott, told the crowd.

Former state Sen. Larry Young, who was expelled in 1998 for ethics violations, urged the group on as they marched around State Circle and stood in the plaza dedicated to the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

"It was just about two years ago that I walked out of that door -- I should say, was thrown out of that door," he said to chortles from the crowd. "But that's all right, because what the system takes out of you, the people will put back into you."

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