Voters in 7th District are offered a distinct choice for state senator

GOP conservative Harris faces moderate DeCarlo

October 24, 2002|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

State Sen. Diane DeCarlo, Democratic candidate for the Maryland Senate seat in the 7th District, likes to joke that her opponent puts people to sleep.

"I bring 'em awake," she offers in way of campaign frolic.

In fact, her Republican rival in the November election, state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, does send selected folks into slumber as an anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

But speaking on the campaign trail, it can be a different story.

In August on DeCarlo's home turf of Essex, Harris clearly connected with the crowd at a candidates forum at Commodore Hall. Although DeCarlo was greeted warmly, Harris received surprising applause from the crowd each time he spoke on issues from crime to education.

The newly configured 7th District is a diverse geographic area encompassing varying socioeconomic groups and communities. The district runs from Cockeysville to Middle River and includes a slice of Harford County.

The voters have two distinct choices in the race - DeCarlo, a self-described moderate, and Harris, a staunch conservative.

While describing herself as a strong populist who led the defeat of Senate Bill 509, the condemnation legislation proposed two years ago, DeCarlo helped organize that fight but got lots of help. She reached across party lines to recruit Del. James F. Ports Jr. of Perry Hall to engage County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in a series of debates on the issue.

Sensitive to criticism of her longstanding association with liquor interests, DeCarlo said she is in the process of selling her Plaza Lounge on Middle River Road. As a board member for life of the county Licensed Beverage Dealers Association, she said there is nothing wrong with receiving support from that group and the liquor dealers association in the city.

"I put people before the party," said DeCarlo, 57, who lives in White Marsh. "While in the Senate, my opponent has voted against women's health care, ... children's health care ... even against dropping the 5-cent tax on POW-MIA flags."

DeCarlo, a House of Delegates member from Essex for eight years, was appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in July to fill the senate term of Michael J. Collins, who retired.

Harris, DeCarlo said, "has the reputation for saying no. I'm not saying he's a bad guy, only that I am better."

Harris, 45, acknowledges that, during the campaign, he has gained a reputation as a legislative obstructionist during his four years in Annapolis.

"Ms. DeCarlo even said that I was against more funding for cancer research," said Harris, who is also an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University. "That's simply crazy. My opponent seems to be saying I should vote for everything under the sun as long as the label is approved. I might disagree with the language of a piece of legislation ... that bill might be flawed.

"My opponent says that she is out there for the people, but that didn't stop her from approving a 39 percent legislative pay raise and another pay increase for the governor," Harris said.

As legislative goals, DeCarlo lists education, crime and senior citizens as priorities.

"On the east side, we have to reduce class sizes," DeCarlo said. "To reduce crime we have to bring more jobs to Middle River and Essex, and we have to treat our senior citizens better."

Harris wants to attack crime and improve education, but "to do that, we have to fix the state budget mess without raising taxes. I favor slot machines but with several considerations, including it go to referendum, local communities would have a voice in the issues and that a fire wall be established to ensure the profits from the slots go directly to public education."

Both candidates carry a number of endorsements.

DeCarlo has the backing of Maryland's two major teacher groups, the AFL-CIO of Maryland and Washington, the Maryland State Troopers Association, and the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police.

The National Rifle Association, Maryland Right to Life, Circle of Friends of American Veterans and other organizations have thrown their support to Harris, a commander in the Naval Reserve.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has given his blessing to Harris; DeCarlo said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic nominee, has not endorsed her.

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