Candidates in state 7th ready to go to the mat

September 07, 2006|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun Reporter

Josip Peruzovic likes to tell the one about picking up Hulk Hogan for a body slam. It was back in the 1980s, and Peruzovic - you might remember him as Cold War-era bad guy Nikolai Volkoff - says he kicked a whiskey bottle out of the way before dropping pro wrestling's golden boy to the mat.

Now he's on the ballot in the 7th Legislative District, running for the House of Delegates under his stage name. And he's not the only one in the race who has shown that he won't walk away from a scuffle - incumbent Republican Dels. Richard K. Impallaria and Patrick L. McDonough clashed with lobbyists for Hispanics two years ago after a legislative hearing in Annapolis.

In all, more than a dozen candidates - five Republicans, including the third incumbent, J.B. Jennings, seven Democrats and one Green Party member - are seeking the three seats representing a district that stretches from Middle River to Cockeysville to parts of Harford County. And some shots are coming across party lines, even as the GOP race has spawned a round of interparty finger-pointing.

Call it a political battle royale - though McDonough says, "I don't think that hitting someone over the head with a chair qualifies someone for office."

McDonough and Impallaria have been alternately praised and criticized for their outspokenness and their legislative proposals, particularly when it comes to illegal immigration. They have put forth legislation to forbid people from lending their cars to illegal immigrants, to require local law enforcement officials to turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities and to prohibit state and local governments from accepting cards issued by foreign consulates as sole proof of identity. None of the bills passed.

"I call this a hotbed of lawmakers who support lawbreakers," said McDonough, 62, a radio talk-show host.

He said illegal immigration is an important issue, particularly among the working-class voters in his district. He said many members of the Latino gang MS-13, which is known to have surfaced in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs, are illegal immigrants.

Impallaria, a 43-year-old auto body shop owner who in 2000 helped lead a fight against a proposal that would have allowed the county government to condemn land for revitalization, said he's not against foreigners coming to America. "It upsets me that people who come here illegally should be put in front of people who come here legally," he said.

The district's state senator, Andrew P. Harris, backs the delegates, saying they don't let politics sway them from putting forward bills that could be interpreted as controversial.

"I personally think that's part of why they are respected as much as they are in the district - they don't pull punches," said Harris, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

In March 2004, Impallaria and McDonough exchanged heated words with activists for Hispanics inside the House of Delegates' office building. The delegates said the activists had called them names and improperly labeled them racists during a hearing.

During the argument after the hearing, McDonough shoved a labor union director who tried to intervene, an act that was done in self-defense, McDonough later said. An ethics complaint against McDonough and Impallaria was dismissed.

Last year, after county officials said Impallaria did grading work and removed trees at his waterfront property in Middle River without government approval, the delegate, though denying wrongdoing, agreed to plant shrubs and clear debris.

James G. Stavropoulos Jr., a Middle River car salesman who is running in the Democratic primary, said McDonough and Impallaria are out of touch with district voters. Voters are "more worried about crowded schools, they're worried about utility bills, they're worried about fuel costs, they're worried about public safety and community awareness," Stavropoulos, 49, said.

McDonough has accused county GOP Chairman Chris Cavey of trying to recruit candidates to run for a House seat in the district. Cavey denies doing so.

McDonough and Impallaria said they have held town hall-style meetings whenever communities have faced hard times, whether damage from Tropical Storm Isabel or wells tainted by a gasoline additive.

The third incumbent in the district is Jennings, a 32-year-old feed-store owner from Joppa. He said he's proud that half of the 14 bills he authored became laws, including a measure to provide property tax relief for homeowners who repair damage caused by a natural disaster.

"I'm not going to spend taxpayers' money and put in frivolous pieces of legislation just to put it in and say, `Hey, I've sponsored this bill,' knowing it's not going to go anywhere," Jennings said.

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