Hesitating to return to business as usual

The Political Game

Decorum: Some politicians are torn between a wish to proceed with delicacy after the Sept. 11 attacks and the need to fill their coffers as elections loom.

October 16, 2001|By David Nitkin and Michael Dresser | David Nitkin and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

LAST MONTH'S terrorist attacks changed the rules of politics.

In this crisis, people are turning to elected leaders for guidance and stability. They want assurances of safety and words of comfort. They want to hear what their leaders have to say.

But at the same time, officials feel restricted with regard to the messages they deliver. Typical components of political speech -- the request for campaign donations, the overtly partisan message -- are suddenly in poor taste.

Politicians throughout the region are understandably uneasy about returning to business as usual.

Del. Cheryl C. Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat who might run for a state Senate seat, said she hasn't been making the calls she should before her fund-raiser Sunday. Placing them, she said, feels "awkward and inappropriate."

But, Kagan said, she'll probably begin dialing soon: "The reality is that we'll be in an election next year."

On the other end of the political spectrum, Republican Sen. Richard F. Colburn of the Eastern Shore has been putting off fund-raising calls for an event a week from today. "There was that feeling of malaise. It was difficult to do anything," he said.

But Colburn said yesterday he was about to start working the phones, noting that President Bush has urged people to get on with their lives.

"To do otherwise would mean [the terrorists] have won," he said.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan conceded that his pending decision about whether to enter next year's race for governor seems less pressing in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. "It's a little difficult to call people and ask them for money for politics when people are focused on Sept. 11th," he said.

Duncan has shifted his focus slightly. His next major fund-raiser, on Nov. 4, will collect money for the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund. His campaign, he said, will pay the event's expenses so all donations will go to the charity.

Politicians frequently look to public safety unions for support, Duncan noted. "I thought this would be a good way for the political community to give back to the firefighters and police officers."

Not every public official feels awkward about getting back to the task of raising money.

Del. Nancy Hubers, a Democrat, said her Essex-area constituents are determined to move forward -- as is she. "I've called people today and had good conversations with them," Hubers said.

The challenge of balancing party politics and national unity was apparent earlier this month at a Maryland Democratic Party awards dinner in Baltimore County.

The ballroom at Martin's West was awash in red, white and blue. A choir sang the national anthem. The state's top Democrats, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, began their speeches with pledges of support for the president. Applause was strong.

Then came the awkward moment, the transition. Glendening told the crowd that even in times of trouble, the ideals of the Democratic Party are worth supporting. The applause softened noticeably.

"I anticipated that the first part of everybody's speech would be about coming together, and the second part would be about why they were there," said Lainy M. LeBow-Sachs, chairwoman for the event. "The executive director of the party called me to say they didn't get any complaints."

The power of the pen in political fund raising

If U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is to raise the $2 million-plus he says he wants by the end of the year to run for governor, the money will flow later rather than sooner.

In the three weeks since Ehrlich set a money-raising goal as a prerequisite for a gubernatorial bid, he has collected "close to $200,000," said Paul Schurick, his political aide. Much of the money came in response to a sharply worded letter sent to GOP supporters that was critical of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat.

"That letter has done tremendously well," Schurick said. Additional fund-raising events are scheduled during the next six weeks, he said.

With redistricting, Miller crosses the line, says Curry

Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry wants Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller out of the county's legislative delegation -- and he's threatening to sue to oust him.

Curry says he is likely to challenge any redistricting plan next year that leaves Miller with a portion of Prince George's in his district -- which now includes parts of Anne Arundel and Calvert counties.

Miller, one of the key players in redistricting decisions, says Curry is "just spouting off."

Normally, a county leader would be delighted to have such a powerful legislator representing his jurisdiction, but the two Democrats have had a stormy relationship since Curry won his office in 1994.

"Mike doesn't use his clout to serve Prince George's County," Curry said. "He frequently uses it to create a despotic reign inside the Senate that the citizens here don't even know about."

Curry, who is African-American, said he would like to see an eight-member Prince George's Senate delegation, with six districts composed mostly of minorities and two white-majority districts in the north and central county. He sees no room for a white-majority district in the south county, Miller's longtime political base.

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