Two famous-name freshmen begin to carve own niche in Md. House

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The speaker of the House called on "the gentleman from Baltimore County," and for the first time in his short legislative career, that gentleman was Jon S. Cardin, the newly elected delegate from the 11th District.

The 33-year-old Cardin rose nervously and introduced his parents, who had joined him that evening, and more important, he welcomed the oldest living former member of the House of Delegates - former Circuit Judge Meyer Cardin, his 95-year-old grandfather.

Two seats away on the House floor - not far from the portrait of the young Cardin's uncle, former House speaker and now U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin - sat another young delegate with a new face and a famous last name: Eric M. Bromwell, 26-year-old son of powerful former Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell.

"The next generation's taking over," said Congressman Car- din, who was first elected to the State House in 1967. "We're in good hands."

Amid a flood of freshman lawmakers - 47 in the House alone this year - these two Democrats stand out, as much for their names as for their earnestness and eagerness and enthusiasm for a job that is called part time but often feels like anything but.

They are as comfortable answering constituents' concerns and hearing testimony on bills about slots and prescription drugs as they are playing guest bartender at the Sly Fox pub or basketball with the governor. Cardin describes his new job this way: "It's a cross between final exams and summer camp."

"They're a hoot," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve. "They're exactly what you want in freshmen - they have a great sense of humor, and they work hard, and they're attentive. Even if they didn't have those famous last names, they're very gregarious - that always works down here.

"Around the second year, it sinks in that sometimes people don't listen to you. But the first year's a blast."

Benjamin Cardin was House speaker in 1979 when Thomas Bromwell was first elected to the House of Delegates. They have been friends ever since, both said. There is a photograph from January's swearing-in ceremony - two Cardins, two Bromwells, each one beaming as he stands on the House floor.

"I'm just delighted that our two families have touched once again," Thomas Bromwell said.

The young delegates - Bromwell, with his Beverly Hills 90210 sideburns and fraternity boy looks, and the handsome Cardin, who often gets phone numbers from Jewish mothers who want the eligible bachelor to date their daughters - became fast friends three months ago during an orientation session. Their easy banter sometimes makes them sound like an old married couple. "When I heard Cardin, and he heard Bromwell, we knew we had a lot in common already," Eric Bromwell recalled.

Cardin is an attorney in his family's firm and has a long resume of degrees: A graduate of Park School and an international relations and Spanish major at Tufts University, he has a master's in public policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a master's in Jewish studies from Baltimore Hebrew University and a law degree from the University of Maryland.

The younger Bromwell, a graduate of Calvert Hall, graduated from Salisbury University in 1998 and works for Comcast. His education in Maryland politics was at his father's knee. Every session, for as long as he can remember, Bromwell visited Annapolis. One opening day, a newspaper photographer captured him on his father's lap blowing a gum bubble. Several times, he was allowed to sit in the floor seat of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

"I grew up down here," Bromwell said. "It was the only thing besides wanting to be a professional baseball player that I've ever wanted to do."

His father said he wanted to do a flier during the campaign that read: "Eric Bromwell's been in Annapolis for 20 years. You just didn't know it."

In July, Bromwell's first fund-raiser earned him $40,000 in one night and was attended by a who's who of Maryland politicians - former Govs. William Donald Schaefer and Marvin Mandel, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, soon-to-be Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

In Annapolis, the freshmen have learned about long days serving in committee (Cardin is on Ways and Means and sat through nine hours of bill hearings on slots one day), about constituent e-mails and letters that need to be responded to, about being cornered by lobbyists.

"You're expected to read the rule book and know everything," Cardin said. It's not that easy, he quickly learned.

"There's no training for it," his uncle said. "You go right into the fire in the first session."

The next generation soon learned about disappointment - both had bills killed in committee early in the 90-day session. Bromwell's would have made forging a prescription a felony, as forging a check is. Cardin's would have increased the license fee on tobacco wholesalers and retailers from $25 to $45 a year - easy money for the state, he figured. A tax increase, others decided.

They have also had success. A Bromwell bill to increase access to a prescription drug plan for seniors has passed the House and awaits a Senate vote.

Many of the young freshman delegates - and some of the seasoned second-termers - spend much of their free time together. On Monday nights, after the voting is done, they often head out for a drink together. Cardin was carded the first night and didn't have his driver's license. He learned his House of Delegates ID won't get you a beer, even in this town.

This week, Bromwell and Cardin talked about plans for the next session. This year, they rent rooms in separate hotels while in Annapolis. Next year, they're talking about renting a place together, maybe with a couple of other newcomers.

On this night, the youngest delegate in the house, 24-year-old Patrick N. Hogan, a Frederick County Republican, joins them (Bromwell resents his colleague's youth - were it not for Hogan, he would be the youngest delegate, he says more than once), as does Anne R. Kaiser, a 35-year-old Montgomery County Democrat. Others are expected later.

There are two sides to being related to such powerful politicians, Cardin and Bromwell are learning. "On the one hand, it doesn't hurt to have a famous last name, providing the family last name isn't John Dillinger," said Donald F. Norris, a professor of Cardin's at UMBC. "But all it does is open doors. After that you're on your own."

Bromwell heard rumblings during the campaign that he was trying to run on his name. "To think people go into a voting booth and vote for a name and not a candidate is scary, but I think the voters of the 8th District are smarter than that," he said. "It is not what got me elected."

On the floor, Bromwell sits in front of A. Wade Kach, a fellow Baltimore County delegate who has been in office longer than Bromwell has been alive. Kach isn't just a colleague - he was Bromwell's seventh-grade algebra teacher at Perry Hall Middle School. "He obviously is an individual with a lot of potential," Kach said. "We need to look at him as an individual and not so much as his father's son."

Cardin said he feels people expect more of him right away because of his famous relations.

Meanwhile, they have immediate access to men with intimate knowledge of what they are going through - and that advice can go a long way. Cardin and his uncle speak frequently and have dinner at least once a week.

"He loves to live vicariously through me in terms of state politics, and I certainly have a built-in adviser who is very insightful," he said.

But some lessons can be learned only through experience.

"I sort of tell him to do his own thing, to make his own mistakes," Benjamin Cardin said. "He'll do a lot of things right. He will help a lot of people."

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