Political colleagues in Eastern Baltimore County are reacting with sadness and frustration, but little surprise to the accumulating reports of Del. Leslie Hutchinson's legal, financial and personal difficulties.
"I think it was only a matter of time until a lot of what was going on caught up with her," said Del. Michael H. Weir, D-6th. "It has been an embarrassment to all of us."
They say Ms. Hutchinson, D-6th, had chosen to distance herself from her district colleagues, and they did not seek to confront her about her behavior when rumors began to fly not long after she won office by unseating incumbent Democrat R. Terry Connelly in 1990.
"In retrospect, maybe we should have done that," said Sen. Michael J. Collins, D-6th. "But Leslie's personality didn't lend itself to that.
"Leslie from the beginning wanted to establish herself as separate and distinct from those of us who were re-elected. She didn't seem interested in consultation or establishing that kind of personal relationship."
As for Ms. Hutchinson's political future?
"The first thing Leslie has to decide is whether to run again," Senator Collins said. "Then it's up to voters whether to accept her or not. I'd rather not speculate on that at this time."
County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina was less hesitant to speculate. His 5th Councilmanic District overlaps Ms. Hutchinson's legislative district.
"I think she made some serious mistakes," he said. "I don't think there's any excuse for it. Politically, I think it will be almost impossible to straighten out."
Likewise, Delegate Weir had little sympathy for Ms. Hutchinson's troubles. "I've kept my nose clean," he said. "I think everybody else ought to do the same."
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. said his Annapolis office was "deluged with calls from irate constituents of hers" after a Sun story detailing her difficulties appeared Monday.
The Sun has disclosed that Delegate Hutchinson has had a long list of difficulties in recent years, including unpaid income taxes; unpaid rent, utility and telephone bills incurred during the last legislative session; and repeated traffic citations for driving without a valid license or insurance.
See DELEGATE, 16B
Delegate Hutchinson has not returned repeated telephones calls from The Sun to her home and office.
She was assessed $750 in fines for the late-filing of three required campaign finance reports. The fines were waived in June 1992 after she told state election officials the reports were late because her campaign treasurer was ill.
She was fined $250 for failing to file her 1992 annual campaign finance report, which was due last November. The fine has not been paid. The matter is being readied for transfer to the Office of the State Prosecutor, according to officials in the office of the Administrator of Election Laws.
The prosecutor's office, however, is unlikely to take action any time soon. Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said his seven-person staff is too swamped with more important cases to investigate "low priority" violations of campaign reporting rules.
The office has a backlog of about 100 cases involving lawmakers and political candidates who allegedly failed to file campaign finance reports, he said. None of those cases is being actively investigated now, he said.
A friend's support
Speaking as a friend of Ms. Hutchinson's, Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano criticized The Sun's coverage.
"Newspapers do expect and demand public officials to be saints and refuse to recognize that they are human beings, just as reporters are and editors are, who sit up there in their lofty positions and judge people," he said.
Councilman Gardina said news of Ms. Hutchinson's troubles came as a surprise to him. "I very seldom see her," he said, although he has a district office in the same Essex building as hers.
There was little surprise, however, among members of the 6th District delegation. The rumor mill began churning out stories about her driving and spending habits some time ago, Senator Collins said.
"Quite frankly I became increasingly flabbergasted by the various rumors I was hearing," he said. "But [in politics] there is always someone out there who wants to say something mean or nasty about someone else. It goes with the territory."
He never approached Ms. Hutchinson about the stories, he said, "because it was none of my business."
Actually, it was a bit more than that. Delegate Hutchinson has been somewhat estranged from her 6th District colleagues almost from the moment of her election in 1990.
'That was it'
Del. E. Farrell Maddox, chairman of the county's State House delegation and a fellow 6th District delegate, said that after Ms. Hutchinson defeated incumbent Terry Connelly in 1990 in a Democratic primary, she campaigned with the surviving incumbents in the general election. But "when the election was over, that was it," Mr. Maddox said.
The incumbents invited her to set up her district office in the same Essex suite they leased, but Delegate Hutchinson declined, leaving them in a financial bind.
She established her own office, but months later changed her mind and approached Senator Collins and the others about moving in with them after all. This time, they declined.
"We were set up with a three-man office, the leases were signed," Mr. Maddox said. "And I'd seen, being chairman, how she performed in Annapolis. I felt she would only disrupt our Essex office." He explained that Ms. Hutchinson "was never satisfied with staffing and people that worked down there [in Annapolis].
"It's no secret she and I are not fond of each other," he said.
Even so, Delegate Maddox said, "I'm not happy to see anyone having the difficulties she's having. If she were to come to me for advice and counseling, I'd be happy to give it."
Ironically, it was Ms. Hutchinson's uncle,
Donald Hutchinson -- then a state senator -- to whom Senator Collins turned for advice in 1978 when he was first elected to the House of Delegates.
"I went to Donald for advice on how I should act in Annapolis. His advice to me was, 'Always, always tell the truth and always keep your word,' " Senator Collins said.
"He [Donald Hutchinson] was among the most honorable public officials I ever met," he said. "I don't know if Leslie has sought advice from Donald or not. They were always very close."
Mr. Hutchinson declined to comment yesterday on what he said is a family matter. "Suffice it to say the family is closing in and giving her as much support as we possibly can," he said.
Delegate Maddox said there is very little county lawmakers can do to help Ms. Hutchinson deal with the problems that have come to light in recent weeks.
"She's her own person. We really just can't penalize her in any way," he said. "There's a point where you just back off."
Ms. Hutchinson's 1990 campaign chairwoman, Pamela Jean Lewis, said she remains a personal friend of the delegate's but has seen little of her recently and could shed no light on her difficulties or plans.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden declined to comment, saying that "with the comments, suggestions and help she can receive from people in the legislature, I don't know that having others add to it serves any useful purpose."