Democrats running for Congress in 8th go light on opponents

Rockville forum provides few sparks among the 4

Exception is Shriver vs. Shapiro

May 29, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE - Maryland's 8th Congressional District is expected to provide one of the most hotly contested and expensive primaries in the country, but last night the four Democratic candidates relied largely on soft-spoken innuendo rather than direct attacks in their biggest debate so far.

There was one exception, in a late exchange by two of the hopefuls. Former Clinton administration trade negotiator Ira Shapiro asked why state Del. Mark K. Shriver campaigned recently with, among others, former NAACP director Benjamin F. Muhammad. Muhammad has been criticized in some political circles for his link to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whom some consider anti-Semitic.

"I am a strong, strong supporter of Israel," Shriver replied. "I do not support any anti-Semitic comments or anyone, including Reverend Farrakhan, who believes in that."

But mostly when disagreement occurred, it focused not so much on issues but who is best qualified to challenge Rep. Constance A. Morella, an eight-term incumbent who squeaked by in 2000 with 52 percent of the vote and is considered vulnerable by national Democrats.

Without mentioning Shriver by name, state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., another of the hopefuls, told an overflow crowd in the Montgomery County Council hearing room, "I believe the best measure of what someone will do as a member of Congress is not who they know, but what they have done before."

Left unsaid by Van Hollen is that Shriver is a product of two of America's most celebrated families. He is the son of former Peace Corps organizer Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a sister of former President John F. Kennedy.

Shapiro has been emphasizing the support he receives from nationally known Democrats, including former Vice President Walter F. Mondale.

Van Hollen said, "I ask you again to look at our records. Look at what we've actually done." He noted his record on gun safety and sponsorship of a tobacco tax increase that helped finance a school aid bill.

For his part, Shriver told not of his family lineage, but of starting CHOICE, a program to help delinquent, abused and neglected youths, and of fighting in Annapolis for more money for early-education programs.

Shapiro said the district's Democrats will make a mistake if they nominate a state legislator such as Shriver or Van Hollen to take on an entrenched Washingtonian.

"The Annapolis approach is we'll redraw the lines, we'll make the district more Democratic, we'll nominate one of the two attractive state legislators and they'll beat her," Shapiro said.

Sponsored by 16 county Democratic clubs and moderated by the League of Women Voters, it was the first formal debate of the campaign after several joint appearances.

Also participating was attorney Deborah Vollmer, who has run for the seat several times and used the forum to push for a universal health care plan.

Since the 2000 election, the district lines have been re-drawn, replacing predominantly Republican areas in Montgomery County with largely Democratic areas there and in neighboring Prince George's County.

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