Quinter keeps a high profile in first term

District 13 delegate noted for his energetic style

Howard County

March 17, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With about one-third of the 90-day General Assembly session left, Howard County first-term Del. Neil F. Quinter is leading his colleagues in one important category: news releases.

On subjects from video voyeurism to gun control, Quinter has issued 17 news releases - two more than the number of bills he has sponsored.

"My view is that I got elected to get things done. I'm trying to get a lot done."

A Washington lawyer and outspoken Democrat with Capitol Hill experience, the Kings Contrivance resident is always ready to offer an opinion in public, and not just in Annapolis.

He is the only Howard legislator who appeared at both of County Executive James N. Robey's annual budget hearings in Ellicott City, even though the last one, March 9, took place at the height of the legislative session. Both times Quinter argued in favor of funding for all-day kindergarten at the county's seven neediest schools.

"I care a lot about trying to close the achievement gap," he said. Quinter is a strong advocate of the Thornton statewide educational reform plan, too. By testifying at a televised hearing before Robey, he said, "You reach a broader audience" that includes school board members, who will make the final decision.

"There's only so much I can do with my official powers as a delegate," he said.

Unofficially, Quinter has traded personal barbs with Republican Del. Warren E. Miller, who accused him of "trying to make a name for himself" with an assault weapons ban bill - which Quinter denies.

In December, Quinter declared himself a "target" of county Republicans in an effort to boost sales for his political fund-raiser. State Republican Party Chairman John Kane responded by saying, "I wouldn't know the guy if I bumped into him on the sidewalk."

Quinter says he is just using skills he learned while working for Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California as counsel on a Senate committee. Feinstein helped sponsor a fund-raiser for him during the 2002 campaign.

County Republican Party Chairman Louis M. Pope has another name for his behavior.

"I think it's somewhat political grandstanding in that he wants his name in the paper," Pope said.

Quinter argued that six of his news releases should not count because they were really "media advisories."

His legislative District 13, which covers southern and eastern Howard County from Elkridge to Fulton, is a battleground for the two major parties, with Republican Sandra B. Schrader as state senator and three Democratic delegates - Quinter and veterans Frank S. Turner and Shane E. Pendergrass.

One of the delegates is expected to mount a challenge for Schrader's state Senate seat in 2006 as part of a Democratic bid to win control of the three-member Senate delegation. Republicans now hold two of the Senate seats.

In public, elected officials say the election is too far off to drive current decisions, and Quinter said his freshman status means Turner or Pendergrass get first choice on a Senate run.

"I'll be third in line for that," he said.

Quinter's constituents appreciate his efforts, several said, even though they know he does not need to testify at public budget hearings to get Robey's ear.

"I'm very impressed," said Lois Bailey, PTA vice president at Talbott Springs Elementary, who also came to testify in favor of all-day kindergarten at the seven neediest county schools.

"It really showed me that he is really committed to the issue. He even visited our school. Oftentimes you hear politicians say a lot of things, but he is really going above and beyond," she said.

Werner Gruhl, another advocate of all-day kindergarten, said he, too, admires Quinter's dedication. "I really believe he is honestly concerned about it. It's not the kind of thing to earn him a lot of points."

Although some privately criticize Quinter as a publicity hound, other politicians publicly admire his energy, drive - and his success in getting noticed.

"He's ambitious. I like Quinter," said conservative Carroll County Republican Del. Carmen Amedori, who strongly opposes his bill to substitute a Maryland assault weapons ban for a federal law about to expire. "When you're starting out, you need recognition and get the press to know who you are."

Del. Gail H. Bates, a Howard Republican, said, "I can't fault him. It's not my style." Small-county legislators have trouble getting press attention, she said.

Turner, the Howard House delegation chairman, said Quinter "wears me out sometimes just watching him walk around. I just think he's a high-energy type of person."

Schrader had little to say about her district mate.

"No comment. He's gotta do what he feels he needs to do. That's his style," she said.

Said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a west Columbia Democrat: "He's certainly not shy. He does his homework and knows what he's talking about."

Pendergrass, who quarreled a bit over endorsements with Quinter before the 2002 primary, said she issued one news release this year, about being appointed to the Milbank Foundation, a private, nonpartisan think tank working on health policy.

"I am quieter. That doesn't mean it's bad," she said of Quinter's style.

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