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Muldowney faces uphill battle in 2-C

July 09, 1998

Bob MaginnisStanding behind a podium carried in for the occasion and straining to be heard over the roar of the big trucks rumbling past Hagerstown's City Hall, former state delegate Paul Muldowney on Tuesday answered the question that many have been asking for months. Yes, he said, he would take on Del. John Donoghue for the District 2-C seat in the Maryland General Assembly.

Describing his opponent as a "fine young man," Muldowney said he would not run a negative campaign. The closest he came to any negativity was to say that members of the local state delegation lack "focus."

Asked to detail the issues he'd be running on, he said he wasn't going to capsulize his campaign in five minutes. As the campaign proceeds, he said, he'll provide more in press conferences and press releases.

One issue he did raise was the state's lead-paint abatement bill, which he said is stricter than federal law and which, if not amended, could make it impossible to sell rental property in the city in the next five years.

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If that happens, Muldowney said, the city's tax base would begin to shrink, leaving city officials with the choice of allowing revenues to stagnate or raising taxes on other property owners.

"It's not a red-button issue, but it's lurking out there and it flies in the face of 'Smart Growth,' " Muldowney said. The Smart Growth program is Gov. Parris Glendening's program to curb urban sprawl by encouraging redevelopment of existing urban areas. The lead paint bill does the opposite, Muldowney said, by making it more attractive to go into new construction in the suburbs.

My take on this race: Muldowney is getting a late start, which he says is unimportant because he has good name recognition. But explaining something like the lead-paint bill, which could force landlords to spend thousands of dollars to clean up each unit in a building, will take time.

Your first impulse, if you're not a landlord or a renter with small children who like to gnaw on woodwork, is to say, "Who cares?" Getting you to care by focusing on a tax liability you may incur years down the road takes time.

Muldowney's biggest handicap is that, as even he admits, Donoghue is a nice guy who, by all accounts, is a caring person who attends to constitutent service. Getting the public to alter that image would mean running a negative campaign, something Muldowney has already promised he wouldn't do.

Donoghue does have one liability, at least with local Democratic party stalwarts: His mentoring of Chris Shank, an energetic Republican who worked in the delegation's office, served as Donoghue's treasurer in a previous campaign and who's now challenging Del. Bruce Poole, who recently came back into House Speaker Cas Taylor's good graces after spending a couple of years in the speaker's woodshed.

Just as Poole is getting ready to take on some clout again, the Democrats gripe, here comes an upstart Republican sponsored by Donoghue to make life tough for him.

But all this is really what they call "inside baseball," interesting to those who are deeply involved in politics, but dull stuff for everybody else. Donoghue is the man to beat and Muldowney has just two months to give city voters a reason to change partners.

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And speaking of uphill battles, how about the decision of Republican Victoria "Vikki" Nelson to challenge state Sen. Don Munson in the GOP primary? Nelson, whose trademark is her habit of wearing colorful hats to civic and business functions - is upset by Munson's decision to support the delegation's bill to force the Washington County Commissioners to negotiate with the roads department union.

In a blunder that ranks right up with the county's decision to seek the arrest of a black man protesting county hiring policy by sitting on an outdoor bench with a tiny sign, a majority of the commissioners decided during this last term to try decertifying the union, organized in the early 1970s.

Had the county board waited a few weeks, the General Assembly session would have been over, and the delegation would have been unable to do much. Making their move during the session was an open invitation to the delegation to get involved on the union side, with an election coming up. If you're a member of the delegation, whom do you offend: the commissioners or the members of every union in the county? The decision was a no-brainer.

Unions will be eliminated when management demonstrates (over time) enough respect and trust so that workers don't feel they need an outside force to look after their interests. Managers and owners who treat unions as a challenge to their manhood and react like roosters trying to establish dominance in the barnyard only delay the day when unions will be irrelevant in the workplace.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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