KKT got a run for her money

Virtually unknown, Fustero walked away with a heap of votes

September 12, 2002|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

In the midst of a full morning of wall-to-wall interviews yesterday, losing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Robert Fustero had time to consider what might have been if anyone had paid this much attention to him before Election Day.

"I've given more interviews since I lost than I did when I was running," the retired grocery stock clerk observed by phone from his Silver Spring home.

While Fustero struggles with the paradox of why he is more newsworthy as an electoral loser than he was as a candidate, the rest of us are left to ponder an even more intriguing question: How did a complete unknown who spent less than $1,500 manage to garner more than 20 percent of the vote against Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a virtual household name (and not just any name) with one of the largest campaign warchests in Maryland election history?

If Robert Ehrlich beats Townsend in November - as Fustero believes he will - then the name "Fustero" might one day take on a certain meaning in Maryland politics. Loosely translated, that meaning would be "WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!"

Fustero himself believes his showing against Townsend should serve as a wake-up call for her campaign. Voters must not like her too much if they were willing to pull the lever for a complete unknown whose campaign consisted of appearing at sparsely attended forums and handing out a few hundred campaign fliers and buttons.

"Her people should be like, `Here's this clerk from Giant Food who no one knew anything about, and look what he did.' "

He did it in an almost complete media blackout. A chief disappointment in not winning a chance at the State House is that he won't realize one of his fondest fantasies - consigning reporters who ignored him to press quarters nearest the janitor's closet.

On the campaign trail, Fustero says, he discovered deep dissatisfaction with Townsend, whom he believes is far too solicitous of the rich and powerful rather than the working classes.

"I think there is a strong disapproval or dislike, not just of her but of this administration."

Describing himself as a progressive Democrat in the tradition of Hubert H. Humphrey and Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Fustero believes Townsend lacks the common touch of, say, a Robert F. Kennedy.

"I don't want to say anything wrong, but she talks about her father all the time, but she's nothing like her father. He used to go into these neighborhoods and press the flesh. She doesn't do that. She goes in on a tour bus just for the photo op."

As for his own political future, Fustero, 51, who previously lost elections for the Montgomery County Council and for Congress, doesn't see himself running for office again. Instead, he says he'd like to start an organization that turns out candidates committed to relieving poverty. (Until recently, his running mate, Linda Atkins, was homeless.)

As for Democratic Party unity come this fall, that is not a Fustero priority. Townsend can forget Fustero urging his 105,000 supporters to switch their allegiances to her. "It's a matter of principle, not party; I ran against her for a reason."

Instead, he's leaning toward endorsing Spear Lancaster, possibly an even more obscure candidate who is running for governor as a Libertarian.

In this election year, Lancaster might just be unknown enough to be dangerous.

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