Senate race draws notice

Giannetti, Rosapepe form slates in fight for the Democratic nomination in 21st

Maryland Votes 2006

September 03, 2006|By Phillip McGowan and Nia-Malika Henderson | Phillip McGowan and Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporters

In his four years in the state Senate, Democrat John A. Giannetti Jr. has made a name for himself by sponsoring lots of bills, churning out a steady stream of news releases and sometimes siding on high-profile votes with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

His brash, gregarious manner has distinguished the 42-year-old lawyer in the General Assembly, but it has also put off many of his fellow Democrats, who have sometimes questioned his party allegiance and his priorities. Now the two Democratic delegates seeking re-election from his legislative district are backing Giannetti's opponent, former Del. James C. Rosapepe, in the Sept. 12 primary.

Giannetti isn't taking the challenge lightly: The moderate Democrat has recruited his own slate of candidates to run for the three delegate seats for the 21st District, which includes northern Prince George's County and a portion of western Anne Arundel County, including Laurel.

"We reflect the district, and we'll work well with the governor," Giannetti said. "It's a clear choice."

The Laurel resident has faced several months of blistering attacks launched by Rosapepe, a well-financed foe who has turned the contest into one of the most-watched of the Maryland primary season.

Rosapepe, a 55-year-old College Park resident, said he would take a different approach if elected to represent the Democratic-leaning area: "We need a senator who will stand up for the community, even if it means standing up to Ehrlich."

Some political observers say that Giannetti's vote this year siding with Ehrlich on a proposed takeover of selected Baltimore schools created a further divide between the senator and party leadership. They have also criticized Giannetti's votes to oppose a ban on assault weapons and to reject giving the General Assembly greater budget authority.

Dan Nataf, head of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, said the Giannetti-Rosapepe contest - which will effectively decide who wins the seat - comes down "to the question of whether [Giannetti's] positions are more conservative than his district as a whole."

The stakes have been further raised as each side has formed a slate. Rosapepe is joined by Del. Brian R. Moe, the deputy majority whip in the House of Delegates, 12-year Del. Barbara A. Frush and Ben Barnes, a former aide to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Giannetti, who has had a strained relationship with the three delegates in his legislative district, has assembled two political novices - Tekisha D. Everette, an expert on health care policy, and Mark Cook, a technology guru - as well as Laurel City Councilman Mike Sarich.

A third Democratic Senate candidate, Jessie Pulivarti, did not return several phone calls.

Other Democratic delegate candidates include College Park City Councilwoman Joseline Pena-Melnyk and Jon Black, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Republicans have fielded a Senate candidate, John Stafford of Jessup, and only one delegate candidate, Neil B. Sood of Laurel. Both will advance to the November election.

There is one open seat left by retiring Democratic Del. Pauline H. Menes, who was first elected to the House in 1966.

Senate

This year's Senate primary briefly drew national attention before it started. In late February, Giannetti rescued Rosapepe when he choked during dinner at an Annapolis restaurant.

Giannetti is accustomed to upsetting the political order.

He knocked off state Sen. Arthur Dorman - a 37-year state legislator - by 255 votes in the 2002 primary.

If re-elected, Giannetti plans to push for a statewide racketeering-type statute to curb gang activity and wants to get rid of modular classrooms by 2010. He also wants to raise teachers' salaries.

Giannetti also said he continues to work across state lines to force the closure of the District of Columbia-controlled Oak Hill Youth Facility. Local and state officials have said they want to convert the nearly 900-acre parcel into a security buffer for Fort Meade, a park and a police substation.

Giannetti said his top legislative accomplishments include: the state's first biodiesel fuel bill; a bill that made an assault on police officers a felony; and a hate-crimes bill that recognized the transgender and gay community.

He's also an advocate for expanding the Washington Metro's Green Line from Greenbelt to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

He said his record of passing 40 bills shows he can get things accomplished. He said Rosapepe lacks creativity and is "aloof." The senator said Rosapepe's tenure as U.S. ambassador to Romania from 1998 to 2001 "was a joke," pointing to a 1999 internal State Department report that said Rosapepe received some of the lowest performance scores for an U.S. ambassador, as rated by an embassy staff, since 1991.

"What it comes down to is: Do people want an energetic senator with proven results or do they want a legislator who can't pass bills and who isn't reachable?" Giannetti said.

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