Delegate hitting her stride

Democrat Mary-Dulany James to take on a new role in a new political atmosphere

General Assembly

January 14, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Last fall, Mary-Dulany James was in the crosshairs.

Republicans believed the two-term Democratic state delegate to be vulnerable in the November election and made a concerted effort to bring about her defeat.

"I made the hit list," she said.

James not only survived the election, but she won by the biggest margin in her three campaigns. And with the General Assembly session now under way, James is expected to be a key member of the Harford delegation as a builder of bridges between her conservative-leaning county and a new Democratic administration in Annapolis.

James, 46, is one of only two Democrats in the 11-member delegation for Harford County, a jurisdiction that is home to slightly more Democrats than Republicans but where the GOP dominates elected offices and sensibilities have traditionally leaned right.

"Harford has always been conservative and has always produced conservative rural Democrats," said James, who calls herself a centrist willing to strike compromises.

James is expected to play an important role as the delegation lobbies for state money to prepare for the growth wave coming to the county as a result of the national military base realignment - known as BRAC - as well as other needs.

"I am perfectly situated to work on BRAC issues," James said. "We can't overdevelop, but we must accommodate growth," James said.

The base realignment will bring thousands of jobs and people to the county as Aberdeen Proving Ground expands, creating a demand for more schools and transportation improvements, two areas that rely heavily on state funding.

James says she is up to any challenge her heightened role might bring. With her election to a third term representing District 34A, which runs along the U.S. 40 corridor from Joppa to Havre de Grace and a short distance into Cecil County along the Susquehanna River, James said she feels she is hitting her stride as a legislator at a time when county has pressing needs.

Expectations have intensified, given that James will be in the thick of things. She recently was appointed chairwoman of the Health and Human Resources Committee and is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, which funds most major projects, including schools and roads.

"She has her hands on the pulse of several subcommittees and really is a part of everything," said Kathy Carmello, governmental relations administrator for Harford schools.

The delegation must help deliver on the county's promise of seven more schools within the next four years, and members will look to James for help.

"Mary-Dulany is certainly to the left of most of the Harford County delegation, but she is middle-of-the-road to standard Annapolis Dems," said Del. Barry Glassman, a Republican who leads the Harford delegation.

Other priorities for James this session are education and anti-gang legislation.

"Harford has many aging schools, and I will work with county and state to try and get new buildings and to make sure we never get behind on teachers' pensions," she said. "I intend to work to pass the best bills to combat and prevent gang activities and enact college incentive programs for at-risk youth. We have to stop gang recruitment."

Though Harford has a Republican executive and predominantly Republican County Council and legislative delegation, the voters of District 34A present a contrast, having elected James and fellow Democrat B. Daniel Riley as their representatives. Name recognition, experience and the fact that the district is an area where Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 2-to-1 also helped secure victory.

James won a third term by more than 4,000 votes, her largest majority. She had almost 13,000 votes to the closest Republican's 8,500. Riley won the second spot with a little more than 11,000 votes.

"It means what I did resonated with people," she said.

Even Harford's Republican leaders recognize the bridge-building possibilities they have in James.

"She has to walk a tightrope to balance with Harford's conservatism," Glassman said. "She is a hard worker and does a good job balancing. Most people don't realize the pressure rural Dems are under often has them casting votes against their own leadership. If you are not a rank-and-file liberal, you have a difficult job."

Though the county delegation has to find its way along the new political lay of the land in Annapolis, so too will the administration of Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley and the Democratic leaders in the State House, James said.

"I hope O'Malley gets the message from what happened nationally, and that is that Democrats who govern from the center are the most effective," said James. "We have treaded water for the last four years. The new governor has to resolve issues."

James said she expects to establish a good working relationship with Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley, who attended a fundraiser at her home in June, as did several Republicans, including County Executive David R. Craig.

The new governor could draw valuable lessons from his predecessors, James said.

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