Young's political future in spotlight

But after NAACP loss, he doesn't plan to seek return to Senate

January 01, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Larry Young might have been stung by his surprising defeat in a local NAACP election, but he isn't letting the disappointment show.

He says he never thought of the race as a political contest and, besides, he's happy doing morning talk radio on WOLB and laying the groundwork for a local chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network.

The once-powerful state senator brushes aside speculation that losing the branch election indicates that he could not reclaim his old state Senate seat. Young says he is not interested in the seat, at least for now.

"I don't foresee how I can be comfortable sitting in the 47th seat in the Senate in 2002, not when I have a radio show that puts me front and center," Young said last week, after losing the race for the presidency of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"The radio opportunity has been a blessing, and I'm trying to get better at it," he said. "I don't need the political arena on my agenda right now. Sometime in the 21st century I'll think about it."

G.I. Johnson, president of the NAACP's Baltimore chapter, handily defeated Young by a margin of 233 to 174. But Del. Talmadge Branch, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, and other politicians said the loss is not politically fatal.

They note that while the Baltimore branch has about 4,000 members, 500 are active, and they are widely dispersed. It is not known how many live in Young's old political stronghold in West Baltimore.

"I don't think that what happened says that he was politically damaged in any way," said Branch. "In my thinking it depends on what he runs for. He runs for something that is focused on his district, that's something altogether different."

`He's still a political force'

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, also isn't ready to write Young's political obituary. He has seen Young survive blows that would have destroyed other's careers.

"I've never been one to try to nail the last nail in Larry Young's coffin because he seems to have the ability to reinvigorate and reinvent himself. I think he's still a political force to be reckoned with," Rawlings said. "I also believe his luster has been diminished."

City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young said the NAACP branch's rejection of Young may have stemmed from strong disagreements about the nature of the organization and its direction.

"What I think happened is that they thought Larry was running to make it a political organization, which it is not," said Bernard Young, who agrees with Rawlings' assessment of the former senator. "You can never count Senator Larry Young out."

For years, Young, 51, was a power broker not only in West Baltimore politics but also in Annapolis, where he served for 23 years as a delegate and senator. He was the first black to hold a committee chairmanship in the Maryland General Assembly. Later, he became a trusted ally of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

His fall from the political heights began in 1998, when he was expelled from the Senate for ethics violations. It was the first time the General Assembly had kicked out one of its own in two centuries.

A subsequent investigation by State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli led to Young being indicted by an Anne Arundel County grand jury on charges of bribery, extortion and filing a false tax return. The trial judge later threw out the four extortion charges and a jury acquitted Young of the bribery and tax evasion charges. It was a stunning defeat for Montanarelli.

Since the trial ended in September 1999, Young has been the subject of rumors about a possible return to electoral politics, although he has made no public statements to that effect. Still, some believe he has been positioning himself for a campaign to oust Democratic state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV from his former 44th District seat.

"I hear it in the wind, but I've never heard him say that that was his ambition or what he wanted to do," said Branch, an East Baltimore Democrat.

Not yet ready to retire

Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, who supervised Young's failed NAACP campaign, dismisses the rumors.

"I have never been in a conversation with the senator about him running against Clarence," said Cheatham. "I don't know where everybody got that information from."

Yet, Young has not fully retreated to the political sidelines. In November, he held a $50-a-ticket fund-raiser to celebrate his years of service to West Baltimore. Last week, he held his fifth annual holiday party. And there is his radio show, which gives him ready access to the city's electorate.

Young joined WOLB two years ago during the height of the investigation against him. The popular radio station is owned by Cathy Hughes, a well-known radio personality.

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