No opponents in sight for Montgomery County Democrat

Poised for Senate seat - by default

Maryland Votes 2006

July 11, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. is running for the Maryland Senate, and his opponents have nothing bad to say about him.

That's because, nearly a week after the filing deadline for candidates to sign up for this year's elections, he has no opponents.

In a rarity in Maryland politics, the Montgomery County Democrat is on the verge of winning a Senate seat by default as a non-incumbent. No Democrat filed to oppose him in the Sept. 12 primary in District 18. No Republican bothered to try to win the Nov. 7 general election.

FOR THE RECORD - An article Tuesday about Del. Richard S. Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, should have said that he was the first openly gay politician to be elected to the General Assembly as a non-incumbent. Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, has been a member of the House of Delegates since 1992 and was re-elected in 2002, about a year after she acknowledged that she is a lesbian.
The Sun regrets the errors.

So, unless the county's GOP central committee can find a volunteer by July 18 to run a probably quixotic campaign in one of Maryland's most liberal districts, the 41-year-old former legislative budget analyst will have a free pass to a most exclusive club.

Nobody could be happier than the retiring Democratic incumbent, Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld.

"He's going to be a superstar in the state Senate," Grosfeld said. "I have no doubts whatsoever."

Among other distinctions, Madaleno would be the first openly gay politician elected to the state Senate. In a district that takes in such affluent Washington suburbs as Chevy Chase and Kensington, there is no indication that his sexual orientation is an issue, let alone a liability. In 2002 he became the first openly gay person to be elected delegate, from the same area.

Two other Democratic delegates, Montgomery County's Anne R. Kaiser and Baltimore's Maggie L. McIntosh, have since acknowledged in public that they are lesbians.

Madaleno, who worked on legislative budget issues as member of the staff of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services for six years before joining Montgomery's legislative team, said his sexuality hasn't been an issue in the House.

"People knew me already, so I didn't walk in the door as `the gay guy.' I walked in the door as `the budget guy, '" he said. "I hope I'll have that same experience in the Senate."

A vacancy in the 47-member Senate is a rare opportunity for ambitious Maryland politicians. Typically, the retirement of a senator brings delegates, local council members, municipal officials and school board members swarming.

There are eight Senate races in the state this year without an incumbent. Only the District 18 race is uncontested in both the primary and general elections.

How rare is it for a nonincumbent to win a Senate seat without a contest? Since the days of powerful political machines, very. It didn't happen in 2002. Or in 1998. Or 1994. Or 1990.

Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, said there's still a chance that the GOP will field a candidate.

"At this point, there are options on the table of the central committee," she said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, no relation, said he doubts that will happen in District 18.

"I think that the Republican Party recognizes that it has about as much of a chance as a Democrat running up in Garrett County," Miller said, referring to the state's westernmost county, where Republicans routinely trample the rare Democrat who dares to run.

Del. Jean Cryor, the lone Republican lawmaker from Montgomery County, said she would leave it up to the central committee to decide this week whether to contest the race. But she said anyone opposing Madaleno, whom she calls "a joy to work with," would have a difficult time.

"It's probably best to husband [the party's] resources," she said.

Madaleno gives much of the credit for his clear path through the Democratic primary to U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Grosfeld's predecessor in the seat, who delivered an early endorsement. He also had the support of Grosfeld and his two fellow Democratic delegates, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Jane Lawton.

There is also a bit of luck involved, Madaleno acknowledged. He said no county council or school board members - the kinds of officials who might have contended for the post - live in the legislative district.

Van Hollen, a Democrat, said Madaleno was unopposed because he commands great respect as a legislator and moved quickly to consolidate support in the party. The congressman predicted that he would quickly carve out a role in the state Senate.

"He's the Babe Ruth of budgeting," Van Hollen said. "He knows the budget inside and out. He can run circles around people on the budget."

Del. Susan L.M. Aumann, a Baltimore County Republican who has served with Madaleno on the House Appropriations Committee, said his service as a legislative staff member has given him "a wealth of knowledge" about the state budget that he has been generous in sharing with colleagues.

"He is a bright, bright man - very intelligent. He understands how the whole dynamic works with the finances," she said.

Aumann said Madaleno's being gay had no effect on his committee work. "It definitely doesn't define him," she said.

That doesn't mean that Madaleno shies away from controversial social issues. He has been an outspoken on causes such as allowing gay couples to marry and to make medical decisions for each other.

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