Sfikas ends bid for Senate

Decision likely means his old friend Della will win re-election

7 years in General Assembly

Redistricting made allies opponents for same job

Election 2002

July 17, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Sen. Perry Sfikas, the Greektown boy who made good and served seven years in the General Assembly, announced yesterday he was more interested in being a stand-up guy than a politician, and was dropping out of the race.

His decision all but ensures Sen. George W. Della Jr.'s re-election to another four-year term in the state's 46th Legislative District. Della, 59, will now be unopposed in the Democratic primary election, and no Republican has filed as a candidate.

The news sent a jolt through state political circles, where Sfikas, 46, is known as a tireless campaigner who earned the moniker "Prince of Pork" for his ability to land state dollars for his Southeast Baltimore district.

But because of the state's new legislative redistricting map drawn by the state Court of Appeals, Sfikas and Della, a popular Baltimore politician for 27 years, suddenly went from comrades to primary election opponents. The race was expected to be close - and bruising.

In what appears to be a gentlemanly gesture almost unheard of in politics, Sfikas said yesterday he wasn't willing to scrap with an old pal. In 1991, Della was instrumental in getting Sfikas elected to the Baltimore City Council.

And back in 1994, it was Della who called him up and encouraged him to run for the state Senate.

"The thing is, if someone's been decent to you, then you simply do the right thing," Sfikas said.

His father's frail health also influenced his decision, he said. Peter Sfikas, who operated boiler room equipment for 30 years after emigrating from the Greek island of Chios, is 82. Sfikas lives with his parents in their Greektown rowhouse and has been helping to take care of his father for many months.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who counts Sfikas among his most loyal supporters, met with him last week. "I could just sense that his heart was not in it quite the way it had been in the past," Glendening said yesterday.

"The bottom line is, we're going to miss him. But I know he's going to continue to be active in his community. That's where his real heart and love is."

In a world as generally cutthroat as politics, Sfikas' decision struck many people as unfathomable.

"I really don't know what to say," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of Baltimore's Senate delegation. "I'm literally shocked."

Ever since the redistricting map was handed down, Della and Sfikas have been in a discomfiting face-off, unsure of how to proceed. Of late, the two have been having long talks about the dilemma. On Monday, they met in Sfikas' office.

"I said, `Would you like to continue to serve?' And George said, `Yes, I would.' That was all I needed to hear."

Della, whose father, the late George W. Della Sr., presided over the Maryland Senate for years, said he was stunned: "You could have knocked me over with a feather."

Della has pledged to support causes important to Sfikas, such as environmental legislation and neighborhood redevelopment projects.

Although he isn't among the state's most powerful senators, Sfikas is known for doing favors for his allies, and negotiating hard, if quietly, for what he wants.

Sfikas was tapped by Glendening in 2001 to help pass his anti-discrimination bill to protect gays and lesbians. Sfikas agreed to sit on the Judicial Proceedings Committee in order to assure its approval.

"His departure is of concern for a lot of reasons," said Shannon E. Avery, a gay rights activist in Baltimore. "Because of redistricting, we're potentially losing some of our strongest progressive leaders."

Sfikas worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski before launching his political career in 1991. He also has a law firm, Sfikas, Karambelas & Akaras, where he practices immigration law, he said. Mark J. Adams, a disbarred attorney, recently filed a grievance against the firm, in part because Sfikas is not a member of the Maryland bar, Sfikas said.

To practice certain kinds of immigration law, a person must have passed the bar in any state. Sfikas is member of the bar in Pennsylvania and in the District of Columbia.

Sfikas insisted the claim had nothing to do with his decision to drop out of the race. And, he added, he is not in line for any high-powered jobs.

Last night, Sfikas planned to mark his decision by taking his parents to dinner at the Sip N' Bite. "My priority is to take care of my dad right now," he said.

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