Underdog's candor is refreshing

The Baltimore Sun

There I go again, showing that weakness for the underdog. And this underdog doesn't even share my politics.

In fact, Donna Edwards' positions on just about everything are 180 degrees opposite of mine. So why am I doing a story about what some regard as her quixotic race for Congress against Rep. Albert Wynn, the Democratic incumbent in Maryland's 4th District?

Wynn and Edwards finally square off at the polls Tuesday. In August, they appeared at two public debates, one at Prince George's County Community College and another at Watkins Mill High School in Montgomery County.

The 4th District runs through parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. It's heavily Democratic - so heavily Democratic that Edwards feels that it's one of the "safe" seats Democrats can always count on. And, Edwards figures, if there's always going to be a Democrat in the 4th District, why not make it one who votes Democratic on the key issues that are the core of Democratic Party principles?

Go ahead. Laugh, scoff and sneer at the words "Democratic Party" and "principles" appearing together in the same phrase. In fact, I've done just that on days when I'm especially prone to sarcasm and cynicism, which is to say when I've gone long periods of time without either honey dips or bean pies.

But there was something that impressed me about Edwards when I interviewed her in August. Maybe it's the reason she decided to put off running against Wynn, even though she has been opposed to his voting on key issues with Republicans for quite some time.

For all her criticism of Wynn - and believe me, she's been hammering him - Edwards knows how difficult it is for all members of Congress to be lawmakers and parents. It was her devotion to raising her son that kept her from running before.

"I've lobbied on the Hill for many years," said Edwards, who worked as an activist and lobbyist for liberal causes before deciding to run for Congress. "I know what that's like. It really wasn't practical for the way I wanted to be a mom. I really thought about running and decided against it. My time as a parent, you just can't trade that."

Edwards' son turned 18 this year and is at Drew University in New Jersey this semester. That's good news for Edwards, especially if she does the unexpected and upsets Wynn on Tuesday. Having raised a son myself - an experience that made me old before my time - I had respect for Edwards' commitment to hers.

I also respected her surprising candor on the No Child Left Behind Act, something many Democrats seem to loathe with a passion reserved for things like tossing virgins into volcanoes.

"If you look at NCLB," Edwards said, "some of the principles and goals are fine. But it's never been fully funded." The last part of that statement I expected. Few Democrats think there's an adequate amount of money being spent on education. The phrase "schools are fully funded" is one you will never hear from a Democrat. But for saying there are at least a couple of good things about NCLB, Edwards got my added respect.

She got even more of my respect after I watched the video Lisa Williams-Payton, one of her campaign workers, showed me. It was the scene at Prince George's Community College the night Edwards and Wynn had their first debate. Just before the debate, witnesses said that a couple of Wynn's campaign workers assaulted one of Edwards' campaign volunteers.

Witnesses said that some of Wynn's workers had torn up Edwards' campaign signs, which sparked the initial confrontation. Williams-Payton's video showed one of the Wynn workers being led off in handcuffs.

Then the video cut to Edwards, who told her supporters that tearing up campaign signs of political opponents was one thing supporters of her campaign absolutely would not do. Compare that to how Wynn responded to the incident, as reported in the Aug. 18 edition of The Washington Post.

"One of their people hit my people," Wynn is quoted as saying. "They got the worst of it."

That answer will perfectly suit those voters who look for supporters of congressional representatives to have skills that would serve them well in an Ultimate Fighting Contest. But for my own mental health, I have to believe most voters want something more. Even Democrats.

Wynn and Edwards have enough differences that, for the first time in years, voters will have a clear choice to make in the Democratic primary for Congress. Edwards feels that Wynn has had the benefit of little genuine opposition in the past.

"People just get comfortable," Edwards said of Wynn, although it certainly applies to 4th District voters as well. "He's the 'D' in the column, and we just vote for the 'D.'"

On Tuesday, there will be at least two 'D's' in the column. Edwards is hoping voters pick the 'D' that's next to her name.


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