Frederick Senate race has harsh tone

`Dirty' maneuvering marks contentious contest between Hecht, Mooney

October 21, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK - Four years ago, a brash, young conservative not far removed from life as a philosophy major at Dartmouth College surprised everyone - including the minority whip who went down to decisive defeat - in claiming the seat representing the city and many of its outskirts in the Maryland Senate.

Alex X. Mooney ran on a platform saying four-term Republican Sen. John W. Derr was too liberal for the district, that his 16 years in the Senate were marked by "going along to get along" in Annapolis, not by independent thought.

Mooney, now 31, hasn't made what he sees as that mistake during his freshman term.

He has alienated some in his party by taking loud stances against such issues as a gay-rights bill, which he called the "special rights for homosexuals bill." He has been known to filibuster into the night in opposition to legislation such as the gay-rights bill and a 1999 tobacco tax increase. He got himself kicked off an influential committee after he angered the Democratic leadership.

A Montgomery County newspaper, in a poll rating the effectiveness of each state legislator, ranked Mooney 47th out of 47 senators, calling him "a bright kid who's quickly marginalizing himself."

This fall, he is engaged in one of the most expensive, most contentious races in Maryland, defending his seat against a well-respected two-term delegate, Sue Hecht, the only Democrat on the eight-member Frederick County delegation. He calls himself one of the state Democrats' "top targets."

The race has featured some harsh political maneuvering.

Hecht said she has been shouted at, harassed and videotaped at events by Mooney supporters.

Mooney's campaign manager, Erin DeLullo, e-mailed the Hecht campaign pretending to be interested in volunteering in order to spy - for which Mooney and DeLullo have apologized.

Gen-X Strategies of Virginia, a company known to support conservative causes, even bought the rights to several Internet domain names - including www.suehecht.com, www.suehecht.org and www. suehecht.net. to prevent her from using them.

Two incidents that were reported to police - though Hecht said she doesn't blame Mooney outright for them - were the theft of her laptop from the city's Democratic headquarters in a burglary in which nothing else was taken and the vandalization of her car tire at a recent street festival.

"Unfortunately that's what happens when you have candidates backed by extremist groups," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat. "They're not content with discussing the issues and are resorting to dirty tricks. I've never seen it in my lifetime, that kind of tactics. It's dirty tricks to the extreme and it doesn't belong in Maryland."

Mooney, meanwhile, has complained that a group called the Defeat Mooney Committee was an illegal political action committee supported by his opponent. Hecht denies any involvement with the group, which disbanded in late August.

Mooney also charged that Hecht's Web site once included a section called "Mooney Tunes" - a play on the Looney Tunes cartoons, with him as Bugs Bunny. He said he has also been shouted at and that his car was pelted with eggs by people he figures were Hecht supporters.

"Everyone needs to take a deep breath and get back to the issues," Mooney said during a recent interview. "It's a desperate attempt on her part to avoid talking about this budget deficit she's created."

Budget deficit

The budget deficit is the most important issue in this campaign, according to Mooney. "My first year down there, we had a billion-dollar surplus," he said. "The tax-and-spend liberals spent it all and kept spending into a $1.7 billion deficit."

He points out that he promised not to raise taxes and didn't (except for "accidentally" approving a bill to raise the hotel tax in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore). He fought off attempts by Hecht, he said, to raise Frederick County hotel and local home sales taxes.

When asked why he is running for Senate, he replied: "Someone's got to fight for conservative policies and values in Annapolis."

Hecht, on the other hand, points to her accomplishments in eight years on the job. She has had 23 bills signed into law to Mooney's zero. She talks about money brought to the county for school construction, attention she has brought to transportation programs, her support of abortion rights and gun safety. She says the budget will be balanced again by the end of the next session as required by law.

She talks of finding ways to fix the problems that come up in her community, like a recent fight against power companies that wanted to relocate to the county without local approval.

"I think people expect something back for their vote," she said. "I have given up my safe seat to give people a choice. Clearly I am the choice for progress."

Big money

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