In an unusually quiet political preseason, Baltimore County school board member Robert Fulton Dashiell has launched what might turn out to be the county's fiercest primary election challenge.
The 49-year-old Villa Nova resident's target is state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a well-connected west-side Democrat, who is also hitting the streets in her campaign to retain a district that stretches from West Baltimore to Randallstown.
Kelley, 62, is an articulate, eight-year legislator with strong support both from her district's delegates and from popular Democratic County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
But she could be vulnerable with some voters because of her lone abstention on the vote in January to expel former state Sen. Larry Young over ethics allegations, including accusations that he took more than $34,000 in consulting fees from Coppin State College with little or no proof he did any work.
Dashiell said he plans a positive, well-financed campaign, but the Salisbury native isn't shy about criticizing Kelley's abstention as a lack of leadership. "I don't think people elected someone to stand on the side," he said.
Kelley, who has taught at Coppin for 25 years, was the only African-American state senator who did not vote against Young's expulsion. On the Senate floor, she explained her abstention -- criticized by some in the black community as a lack of support for Young -- by saying, "I love that school," adding that to see the money spent with no result "is painful to me."
Kelley now portrays her vote as a principled one that took courage but predicts it will not be a big factor with voters.
"That's my right to abstain," she said. "That too is a position. I could look up on that [voting] board and see I was standing alone. If I'm right on principle, I'm going to stand, even if I have to stand alone."
For now, however, the candidates are more interested in mundane practical matters -- like telling voters there's an election coming and informing them of their choices.
A political novice, Dashiell knows he faces an uphill struggle in the 10th District, which is 80 percent in the county and includes Woodlawn, the Liberty Road corridor as well as a slice of West Baltimore.
"If there was ever a picture you wanted to paint of the underdog, I'd be right in the middle of it," Dashiell said, adding that he and Julius Henson, his campaign manager, have studied past election results and think he can win.
A school board member since 1994, Dashiell says he believes he can have more impact on education, child care, gun violence and other issues as a state senator. And at age 49, he doesn't want to run first for delegate.
"I think the citizens of the 10th District are looking for new ideas, creative ideas, new energy, and for people who are not afraid to demonstrate real leadership ability," he said.
Kelley, the first black state senator elected in Baltimore County, takes credit for a long list of laws, from allowing quicker divorce for victims of domestic violence to longer hospital stays for new mothers.
Together with Ruppersberger, her legislative team can also brag about getting money to build an elementary school in populous Woodlawn and for projects such as two new Police Athletic League centers and the Liberty Road improvements.
"We're going to do whatever we can to help them," said Michael H. Davis, Ruppersberger's spokesman. "They've been a great team for the county."
The three 10th District delegates -- Democrats Emmett C. Burns Jr., Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, and the newest, Adrienne A. W. Jones -- are running as a team with Kelley, pooling their money, time and contacts to get them all re-elected.
Kelly also has the personal support of the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, powerful pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's stepbrother.
What impact the Young issue will have on voters isn't clear, but one community leader says it won't be a factor.
"I talk to a lot of people," said E. Ray Staggers, president of the Robin Hills Community Association. "I really don't remember anyone seeing it as a negative issue."
Still, observers see Dashiell as a man not to be taken lightly and predict a lively campaign before the September primary.
It may prove to be the only primary battle generating much heat in the county. County Elections Board Administrator Doris Suter noted that fewer than 40 county candidates have filed so far, compared with more than 100 by this time in a typical election year.
The filing deadline is July 6.
"In our area, there isn't much interest," she said.
Pub Date: 6/15/98