Campaign criticism of incumbent returns to haunt new legislator; Arundel delegate misses first two votes of session


A new state delegate who ridiculed an opponent in November for his poor attendance record missed the first two votes of his political career yesterday, saying he "just lost track of time" while talking on the telephone.

Del. Richard D'Amato, a Democrat from Annapolis who was one of three District 30 candidates who defeated incumbent Republican Phillip D. Bissett, hustled up the stairs of the State House minutes after the first two votes of the session at 11: 51 a.m. and 11: 52 a.m.

"I just wasn't focused," said D'Amato, 56, an attorney who was chief counsel for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia for more than a decade. "It's embarrassing but unintentional. I got there just after the votes closed."

During the campaign, D'Amato lambasted Bissett for failing to show up for House votes and for having what D'Amato called a weak record on the environment, education, women's issues and gun control.

"Running against Bissett's record is going to be easy," D'Amato said in October. "He missed 229 votes in the last session."

Asked about his absence yesterday afternoon, D'Amato said he was in a meeting with police officers to talk about legislation he might introduce to increase penalties for assaults on police officers.

Pressed about the time and location of this meeting, D'Amato then said he was on the telephone in his office, Room 212 of the Lowe Office Building on College Avenue, talking about the proposed bill.

D'Amato said that when he realized he might be late for the first votes of his political career, he ran across the street to the State House.

The record shows D'Amato did not arrive in time to cast a vote on House Bill 3, which would release companies owned by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. from state restrictions on buying stock.

D'Amato also missed the vote on House Bill 21, which would give an extra six months to an advisory council writing a report for Gov. Parris N. Glendening on racial equality in cleaning up pollution.

The delegate was in the marble-floored chamber for a 12: 04 p.m. speech on Maryland's justice system by Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, according to House records.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said a perfect attendance record is not necessarily the ticket to a successful political career. "It's important to be present, but it's also important to spend time with your constituents," said Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat. "This is embarrassing for Dick, but I'm sure he will learn from it, and, hopefully, not miss any more votes."

D'Amato said: "I do not intend to miss any more votes."

Bissett had this comment: "It just goes to show that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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