Del. Robert A. Zirkin portrays Sen. Paula C. Hollinger as a ruthless politician who twists other candidates' arms to force them to buy campaign materials from her husband.
Hollinger depicts Zirkin as an ambitious young schemer with a chip on his shoulder and an eye on her Senate seat.
These are not people to invite to the same dinner party.
The two Northwest Baltimore County legislators are locked in one of the nastiest feuds in Maryland politics today -- complete with allegations of treachery, coercion and self-enrichment.
And just six months ago, these two were re-elected as part of the same 11th District Democratic "unity team."
The Hollinger-Zirkin loathe-fest has become serious enough that other Democrats are scrambling to avoid taking sides between the two officials. Zirkin's fellow 11th District Democratic delegates, Dan K. Morhaim and Jon S. Cardin, find themselves in an especially uncomfortable spot.
The 11th District, which includes Owings Mills and Pikesville, has long been a Democratic bastion. Now county Republicans are watching the strife with growing interest.
"Whenever there's a feud between Democrats, that certainly gives us reason to view that as an opportunity," said county GOP Chairman Donald E. Murphy.
Maryland has a rich history of feuds between senators and their delegates, but the 11th District battle is remarkable for its vituperation.
On one side is Hollinger, a 24-year General Assembly veteran who just completed her first session as a standing committee chairwoman -- one of only four in the 47-member Senate.
Hollinger, 62, is a wily insider whose merry smile can quickly turn into an icy glare. She is known as a passionate advocate for patients' rights and the nursing profession, but critics say she uses her power to conduct personal vendettas.
On the last night of the last session, she stared down House negotiators and forced them to accept a deal lowering the standard of proof for professional discipline of doctors. Zirkin, whose brother is a physician, fought the compromise bitterly on the House floor.
Zirkin, 32, is one of the most aggressive members of the legislative class of 1998. He won his seat at 26 by defeating Hollinger's hand-picked candidate in the primary.
The rancor between the two goes back to that race, during which Zirkin bought campaign materials from the senator's husband, Paul Hollinger.
By Zirkin's account, Paul Hollinger's firm piled on needless shipping charges that cost him hundreds of dollars more than he should have paid.
Paul Hollinger says he did sell Zirkin campaign material, but denies overcharging him.
The hard feelings resurfaced during the 2002 campaign, when Paula Hollinger and Zirkin ran together on the same slate.
Zirkin says Hollinger tried to steamroll the delegate candidates on her ticket -- himself, Morhaim and appointed Del. Dana M. Stein -- into using Paul Hollinger's Hollinger Consulting Services to produce lawn signs, brochures, bumper stickers and other campaign material.
`It reflects badly'
Zirkin said that the more he thought about the implications of doing business with Hollinger Consulting, the more it troubled him ethically.
"I didn't think it was right for me as a delegate to put money into my senator's pocket," he said. "It reflects badly on a political system I care deeply about."
Zirkin said the senator did not take the news well. "There was hell to pay. There was talk of taking me off the ticket," he said.
Stein, a protege of Hollinger, said he did not recall any undue pressure to use Hollinger Consulting. Morhaim declined to discuss the matter, saying he is trying to work with both Zirkin and Hollinger.
Jason Herzberger, Zirkin's campaign manager, said he was at the meeting and heard Hollinger insist that the campaign use her husband's services.
He said that the senator told Zirkin that if he didn't do business with Paul Hollinger, he should run on his own.
The split was papered over during the campaign, and all but Stein won their races. Campaign records show that the senator and Stein continued to do business with Paul Hollinger, but that Morhaim and Zirkin did not. The combined slate gave Hollinger Consulting $75 in business.
Zirkin said that this year Hollinger retaliated by orchestrating the failure of one of his most important bills -- a measure requiring chemical companies to improve the security of their stockpiles of hazardous substances. A Senate source said the word was out during the session that Zirkin's bills were being targeted for defeat, though four ultimately passed both houses.
Hollinger denies killing Zirkin's homeland security bill -- noting that she was the only senator to vote for the legislation in committee. Zirkin dismisses the vote as a ruse to conceal her role in blocking the bill.
`I stuck with this ticket'
The senator said neither she nor Paul Hollinger ever put pressure on other politicians to use her husband's services or retaliated against them for not doing so.