Angrily defending his integrity, the chairman of a state Senate health subcommittee interrupted a public hearing yesterday to accuse a lobbyist for the state medical society of spreading malicious information about him.
Sen. Larry Young also strongly criticized The Sun, which published an editorial yesterday that said the Baltimore Democrat has conflicts of interest that raise questions about whether he will act in the public's behalf in Annapolis.
In an interview later, Mr. Young accused the newspaper of racism.
Mr. Young's toughly worded comments surprised fellow legislators and spectators and brought into view the behind-the-scenes tensions over one of the most heavily lobbied legislative issues in Annapolis.
The proposed legislation would require health maintenance organizations to permit patients to see doctors who are not part of the HMO. The bill, which is the priority of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland but is strongly opposed by HMOs, also would set rules concerning the way HMOs hire and fire doctors.
As chairman of the health subcommittee of the Finance Committee, Mr. Young is in a position to influence the committee's action on the bill, which was the subject of the hearing yesterday.
The society's lobbyist, Joseph A. Schwartz III, had just finished making a case for the bill when Mr. Young began to speak. He accused Mr. Schwartz of being a source of information for critical editorials and articles in The Sun, which Mr. Schwartz denied.
Mr. Young also charged that the veteran lobbyist was spreading information that Mr. Young was opposed to the HMO bill because the medical society refused to give him campaign money last year during his re-election campaign.
In fact, Mr. Young said, he has supported similar legislation in previous years. And he said that in recent years the medical society has given him campaign contributions.
Mr. Young said he would never let contributions influence his votes. "I'm going to do what I think is right for my people and my district," he said. Addressing Mr. Schwartz, he added, "You've been about the business of trying to attack this particular senator, and I deeply resent it."
Mr. Young also criticized The Sun, calling it a "fish paper."
Altogether, the senator spoke for roughly 10 minutes, then abruptly left the committee room as his colleagues and the audience sat in tense silence.
Mr. Schwartz declined to comment on the exchange. But Mr. Young later complained that The Sun has been constantly and unfairly criticizing him since 1987. He accused the newspaper of having an "agenda . . . to attack black leadership."
"This was the only time since 1987 that I have ever responded to any of the criticism that has been leveled against me by the Sunpapers," he said. "But enough is enough."
Yesterday's editorial was based largely on a news article Sunday in The Sun that described potential conflicts of interest for Mr. Young. The article said the senator is in a position to influence legislation that could benefit his employer, American Ambulance and Oxygen Service Co., or affect nursing home owners that have given him campaign loans.
Meanwhile, Mr. Young also was the subject of an article yesterday in the Washington Post. It reported that a Rite Aid executive had written a letter offering the senator the opportunity to recommend people in his district for jobs with the company. At the same time, legislation of financial importance to the drugstore chain was pending in Mr. Young's subcommittee.
Rite Aid lobbyist Gary Alexander and Franklin Goldstein, lobbyist for an association of chain drugstores, both said the timing of the letter was unfortunate, but said it is the sort of community outreach they encourage their business clients to make.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, defended Mr. Young, saying stories painting him as having conflicts of interest are being fed by "a whispering campaign" by health care industry lobbyists in general, and the state medical society in particular.
But the chairman of Senator Young's committee, Baltimore County Democrat Thomas L. Bromwell, said he is "worried about the perception" of conflicts of interest involving Mr. Young.