Tuckwell touts experience as factor in her credibility

October 29, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Editor's note: This is the 10th in a series of stories about candidates for Washington County Commissioner.

Shortly after becoming The Morning Herald's first woman sportswriter in 1975, Sue Tuckwell faced a problem that reporters from the newspaper had not encountered before.

Assigned to cover a men's basketball game at the University of Maryland, Tuckwell was unable to go into the locker room for post-game interviews.

So Tuckwell, who is running for Washington County Commissioner, got a radio reporter to ask her questions for her. When he returned, she took the tape recorder to the press room and transcribed the tape before filing her story.


For a woman who has racked up a number of firsts, the incident was just a minor obstacle.

Tuckwell, 47, said the school's sports information director set up a system in which then-coach Lefty Driesell conducted a post-game news conference outside the locker room. Tuckwell also was able to call players out for interviews.

"I was obviously a novelty. And you had people testing your knowledge of sports," Tuckwell said.

Tuckwell said she also drew curious comments two years later when she became the first female sportswriter at The (Baltimore) Sun. When she covered "Brooks Robinson Day," Tuckwell recalled then-Orioles Manager Earl Weaver asking her a sarcastic question: "Well Sue, What do you think ERA is?"

But Tuckwell said she has neither been intimidated nor troubled by such remarks. And whether she was charter president of the Washington County Commission for Women or the first woman to head the local United Way campaign, she said she has approached life from a universal perspective, not a woman's viewpoint.

Richard Greenwald, who sponsored Tuckwell when she became the first female member of the Hagerstown Exchange Club, said Tuckwell was immediately impressive.

"She's a very intelligent, astute woman who has a lot on the ball," said Greenwald, past president of the organization. "I always thought a lot of her I always found Sue a doer."

Although she left journalism after just a few years, Tuckwell said the skills and attitude have remained with her.

"I've always kept my hand in writing. I've always kept that reporter's inquisitiveness," she said.

Growing up

Susan Terry Tuckwell was the oldest of three children growing up in Bethesda, Md.

Although she never aspired to be president of the United States, she said she was imbued with a strong sense of politics. Her mother was a Democratic activist and Tuckwell remembers walking through the neighborhood collecting dollars for Democrats.

On Election Day, the young Sue Levitan spent time with her mother, who was a poll worker. When she was 7, her mother hosted a coffee for Louis Goldstein, who was running for the first of his 10 terms as Maryland comptroller.

Tuckwell's second cousin, Lawrence Levitan, was a state senator from Montgomery County and chaired the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee.

The pedigree provided a familiarity with politics, but it was high-profile community work in the late 1980s and early 1990s that launched her political career.

Tuckwell won a national award from United Way of America in 1986 for coordinating a 435-advertisement campaign that ran in local newspapers and on radio and television. The advertisements featured prominent members of the community touting the benefits of the United Way.

In 1990, as campaign chairwoman, Tuckwell exceeded a $1.5 million fund-raising goal.

Tuckwell also became involved in the Maryland Theatre and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, where she met Maestro Barry Tuckwell, whom she later married.

As president of the Maryland Theatre's board of directors, Tuckwell fashioned a deal involving the city and county governments and three banks to take out a loan for the debt-ridden theater.

Tuckwell said that kind of experience gives her credibility when she pitches her plan to bring the city and county together on a solution to the county's water and sewer debt.

Moreover, Tuckwell said it typifies an approach she strives for.

"Every project I've ever been in, I've left in a little better shape than when I found it," she said.

Not everyone agrees.

Patricia Wolford, current board president of the Maryland Theatre, said Tuckwell's mortgage deal was a disaster for the theater. She said the theater never should have been allowed to accumulate such debt.

Once it did, Wolford said the loan payments should have been spread out over a longer period.

"It left huge payments to be made by everyone at the theater," said Wolford, who tangled with Tuckwell when Tuckwell chaired the Washington County Gaming Commission and denied Wolford's funding requests for the theater.

"We broke our necks the first three years," Wolford said.

Tuckwell, however, said the theater planned for the payments by staging major events and made three consecutive $40,000 payments when she was there.

"We had no problem," she said. "We uncovered the problem. We fixed it."

Nothing to chance

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