Candidates try to paint differences

Rosapepe, Giannetti face off in moderate 21st District

State Senate

Maryland Votes 2006

20 Days Until Nov. 7

October 18, 2006|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,SUN REPORTER

After a bruising and expensive primary match-up in September, state Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. and James C. Rosapepe are back at it in a race for the District 21 seat. Their positions are the same, but this time, their parties are different.

Giannetti, who was defeated resoundingly in the Democratic primary last month, is now seeking the seat as a Republican, following the withdrawal of the GOP nominee.

The freshman senator lost the support of two Democratic delegates from District 21 after siding on several high-profile issues with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But Giannetti blames his Democratic primary loss on low voter turnout, the predominance of "partisan and activist members of the party" at the polls, and what he called Rosapepe's "swift boat" style of campaigning.

"[John] Kerry got sunk, and we got sunk also," said Giannetti, referring to the successful attacks on the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. "We are considering this Round 2, Giannetti and Rosapepe, this time it's personal. We're going to go after him in the same way he went after us."

Giannetti, a 42-year old lawyer, casts Rosapepe as a tax-and-spend liberal who is out of step with the more moderate, yet Democratic-leaning district that represents northern Prince George's and western Anne Arundel counties.

For Rosapepe, a former delegate who also served a stint as U.S. ambassador to Romania under President Clinton, his tactic of linking Giannetti's voting record to Ehrlich might have gotten a lot easier with Giannetti's party switch last month. Rosapepe continues to hammer Giannetti for his decisive vote against a statewide ban on assault weapons. Giannetti also considers himself pro-life, while Rosapepe says he's pro-choice.

"He [Giannetti] is out of touch with the district on the major issues," said Rosapepe, 55. "When we both were Democrats, which was about a month ago, he went to New Hampshire to campaign for Howard Dean. I was a strong supporter of Gen. Wesley Clark [an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2004]. I'm a mainstream Democrat."

Rosapepe, a former member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, said he fought to control tuition costs. As a delegate, he said, he voted to make sure budgets were balanced and that the wealthy paid their fair share.

Giannetti has advocated extending the Washington Metro's Green Line from College Park to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Rosapepe said he also backs the extension, noting that he worked to bring the Green Line to Greenbelt and College Park while he was a delegate from 1987 to 1997.

Like Giannetti, Rosapepe supports allowing slot machines at racetracks only. Rosapepe said that the revenue could go toward improving schools and infrastructure in preparation for a major expansion of Fort Meade.

"My track record shows that I'd be more effective," Rosapepe said. "I represented the country in the Clinton administration, chaired committees and subcommittees and have a broader, deeper experience."

Giannetti says his record of successfully sponsoring 40 bills in four years - among them a biodiesel fuel bill and hate crime and drunken driving legislation - makes him a better candidate. He questioned Rosapepe's leadership, citing an employee survey in a 1999 State Department report that gave Rosapepe low marks as an ambassador. Rosapepe disputed the survey results, saying it was based on a small sample and included disgruntled employees.

Both Rosapepe and Giannetti agreed to push for the closure of the District of Columbia-controlled Oak Hill Youth Facility.

Giannetti said he is an active legislator, and contended that Rosapape "stands on the sidelines and tell you what he thinks about other people's ideas rather than put out his own ideas." He did, however, acknowledge that his style has not always been the right approach.

"I've made mistakes that I regret in the past four years," he said. "I tend to charge forward when sometimes it would be more important that community groups and constituents are on board rather than getting them on board afterward. That's one thing I can improve on and I will improve on."

Giannetti first upset the Democratic political order in 2002 when, as a state delegate, he defeated state Sen. Arthur Dorman - a 37-year state legislator - by 255 votes in the party primary.

Some of Giannetti's actions during his first term have raised eyebrows. He sponsored a bill to undo a local zoning decision that limited local control over some cell phone towers, a move that would have benefited a client at his law firm. He later withdrew the bill. Two years ago, Giannetti drew fire for hosting tailgate parties where free beer was served and IDs were not checked outside University of Maryland football games.

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