Can party switch give Muldowney win he missed in '98?

March 15, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Love him or hate him - and there are many in both camps - few will deny that when Paul Muldowney served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1978-86, he was one of the area's most effective legislators.

After setting up a campaign committee last September to explore another run against Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, Muldowney made it official last week.

His decision to seek the District 2C seat was preceded by numerous contacts with local leaders of the Republican Party, which he joined two years after losing to Donoghue in the 1998 Democratic primary by fewer than 300 votes.

He is determined not to let that happen again and is planning what may be his most elaborate campaign ever.

It almost has to be. At age 70, he has been away from Annapolis as an office-holder for 20 years. Ronald Reagan proved that septuagenarians can still perform in office, but if Muldowney is defeated this time, waiting another four years to try again might not be an option.


"Age is just a number," Muldowney said, adding that he works out as often as he did 20 years ago and still weighs the same as he did then.

He's not running because he needs the job. He and his partner sold the Supreme Block Co. to a competitor for what he told me was a good price and he remains a consultant for the firm.

He says he is running because he disagrees with Donoghue's stand on a variety of issues, including the so-called Wal-Mart bill.

That measure in effect forces the giant retailer to spend more money on health care for its employees. The bill's backers claimed that Wal-Mart was allowing the state to pick up the costs that it wouldn't.

Muldowney said the bill is bad public policy. Though it only applies to Wal-Mart now, he said, the law could be amended in the future to force even small employers to give their employees health care. That could mean fewer jobs statewide, he said.

Calling Donoghue "disengaged," Muldowney said that a truly effective representative would have found a way to upgrade the U.S. 40/Edgewood Drive intersection five years ago. Nor would a good delegate have stood by while private citizens raised millions for a stadium at North Hagerstown High School.

That should have been paid for by the state, just as has been done at almost every other Maryland school, Muldowney said.

The former delegate also criticized Donoghue's record of constituent service, saying that the incumbent often doesn't return phone calls.

Asked how he knew that, Muldowney said, "Just ask anybody."

Whether that is true would be hard to determine, unless a lot of readers weigh in one way or the other. What isn't hard to see is that on a variety of issues important to the City of Hagerstown, Donoghue's fingerprints have been tough to find - and the District 2C boundaries are basically the city limits.

In early 2004, after Councilman Kristin Aleshire criticized Donoghue for not showing up at a couple of events, I interviewed council members about how effective an advocate they felt Donoghue had been on city issues.

Most were diplomatic, but Councilman Lew Metzner said that Donoghue could really help with the city's ongoing disputes with county government.

But Donoghue said that "as far as leadership on squabbles between the city and the county, I don't feel that my job is to be referee or disciplinarian. I answer to the same voters that they do and they do their jobs as they see fit."

It's not my job, he said, to be "heavy-handed and authoritarian."

That was two years ago and the issues facing the city are essentially the same - annexation policy, Washington County Hospital's move to Robinwood and the fact that the County Commissioners are still using general fund money collected from city residents to subsidize some county residents' sewer rates.

Should the city's General Assembly representative be more involved in such issues, or is an arm's-length approach the best way to go? Voters need to think long and hard about that question as the District 2C contest proceeds.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers

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