Police probe clash between delegates, lobbyists

McDonough pushed man he says `invaded' his space

General Assembly

March 19, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Police are investigating a confrontation yesterday in the House of Delegates' office building in Annapolis between immigration-rights lobbyists and two Baltimore-area lawmakers who are leading efforts to clamp down on undocumented immigrants.

Lobbyists representing Hispanics and a Jewish alliance said they were verbally assaulted by Dels. Patrick L. McDonough and Richard K. Impallaria, Republicans who represent Baltimore and Harford counties.

McDonough said in an interview last night that he also shoved a labor union director who tried to intervene in a heated discussion, but that it was in self-defense. Some of the lobbyists who witnessed the incident in a hallway outside the Economic Matters Committee hearing room called it a physical assault.

Department of General Services officials are reviewing the incident, and state police, who provide security in the General Assembly, will turn over their incident reports to the general services department, officials from both agencies said.

No criminal charges were filed, although House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he believed an ethics investigation into the delegates' actions may arise. "Nothing positive can come out of this," Busch said.

McDonough said he pushed the union member because he felt his personal space was invaded.

"He didn't walk over, he didn't saunter over, he came over quickly. He invaded my space," he said. "I'm the victim here."

Impallaria said the accusations were overstated. He said he engaged his opponents in a debate after a bill hearing because he felt he was improperly labeled a racist during testimony on the proposal.

State police separated the lawmakers and lobbyists.

The incident occurred about 2:30 p.m. after a hearing on a bill to create a task force to study the impact of illegal immigrants on the state's job market.

The task force bill is one of several sponsored by the lawmakers that target illegal immigrants. Others, already voted down in committee, would have prevented people from lending cars or trucks to illegal immigrants and would have made consular cards unacceptable forms of identification.

Natali Fani, a lobbyist with CASA of Maryland, which assists Central Americans fleeing wars and strife, said Impallaria left the committee room with her after the hearing and demanded to know whether she was a legal immigrant.

"He said, `You probably are illegal,'" said Fani, 23, a recent Goucher College graduate and trustee of the school. "He was right in my face. He was yelling at me. It was really ugly. He picked on me because I am Latino. That was an attack."

A few feet away, McDonough was arguing with Erica Seigel, a lobbyist with the Maryland Jewish Alliance, who also spoke against the bill. Jamie Kendrick, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Maryland/DC Council, said he thought McDonough was making "inappropriate" remarks, and tried to intervene.

"All of a sudden, he pushed me out of the way, like a running back would give a forearm," Kendrick said. "It was surreal. I'm 5 foot 6 and 150 pounds soaking wet. He certainly has nothing to fear from me and my wire-rimmed glasses."

The Jewish Alliance issued a statement after the incident: "We are outraged that anyone could allow an honest dispute over public policy to escalate into an ugly verbal and physical assault."

But Impallaria said it was Seigel, Kendrick and others who created the harsh tone by accusing the delegates of racism.

"We were really hoping that this bill would be a bridge between the two sides," Impallaria said. "None of them spoke about the bill; they just spoke about how we were racist or hateful."

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