Wynn's early exit leaves tough choice, hard feelings

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- When he decided to leave Congress before the end of his term to join a Washington lobbying giant, Rep. Albert R. Wynn left his constituents with a choice: Pay for a costly special election to fill his seat or go unrepresented in the House for the remainder of the congressional session.

The dilemma is rankling even some of his fellow Democrats.

"Congressman Wynn's decision makes more financial sense for him than it does for the state," state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County, a Democrat whose district overlaps Wynn's, said yesterday. "It leaves a gap in representation, it causes controversy about a replacement, and then it raises issues about potential conflicts of interest."

"This was handled poorly. I mean, there's no other way to say it," agreed former Gov. Parris N. Glendening. "It's putting Governor [Martin] O'Malley in the tough position of saying either you don't have representation or we're going to lose a couple of million dollars."

Wynn, in his first comments to the media since announcing his resignation last week, told The Sun yesterday that a special election would allow his successor - presumably Prince George's County activist Donna Edwards - to gain seniority on lawmakers elected in November.

"I've discussed this matter with Ms. Edwards, and we both agree that it's in the best interests of the constituents to have a special election so that she can get off a fast start, both [in terms] of gaining seniority but, more importantly, just dealing with the learning curve of being a member of Congress," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

Asked whether it would be better for the constituents if he completed his term and spared taxpayers the cost of a special election - estimated by some at $2 million if both primary and general elections are required - Wynn declined to comment.

"People are throwing around figures that I don't know what they're based on," he said. He said the departure of a member of Congress in the middle of a term is "not an uncommon situation." He noted the cases of former House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert and former Rep. Richard H. Baker, Republicans whose recent departures have necessitated special elections.

Edwards, who defeated Wynn in the Democratic primary for the 4th District, could not be reached for comment yesterday. She is expected to win the general election in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 5-to-1 and would be the favorite in a special election.

O'Malley wants to push legislation through the General Assembly to allow the state to skip a special primary and go straight to a special general election. A single vote held quickly could cut costs to an estimated $1 million and allow the winner to enter Congress before the legislative year ends in September.

The costs would be shouldered primarily by Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which would be responsible for paying election judges, renting polling places, sending out sample ballots and paying overtime for election staffers.

State senators introduced a bill for a special general election in July, which would give the victor six months to serve in Washington. Under current law, state Sen. Roy P. Dyson told his colleagues, a new primary could not be held until August and no new general election until September. Lawmakers did not expect any opposition to the proposal, a necessity if it is to rush through both chambers of the General Assembly before the session ends Monday.

Peter James, the Republican nominee for the 4th District, said Wynn's decision symbolizes a culture in Washington that he is seeking to change.

"That's why Congress has such a low rating," he said. "Guys like to take off and start lobbying. It's a shame it's all about the money to most people, it appears."

Wynn is planning to step down at the end of May to become a partner at Dickstein Shapiro LLP. He said yesterday that he would recuse himself from votes that could affect Dickstein clients.matthew.brown@baltsun.com bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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