The Sun

TV ad uses governor in attack on Leasure
Judicial challengers renew charges of unfair advantage

by Craig Timberg SUN STAFF The Baltimore Sun

October 14, 1996 Page(s): 1B
Section: METRO
Length: 957 words
Index Terms:
Howard County

Record Number: BSUN476257


In a sharply worded television ad starting today, the challengers in Howard County's judges race attempt to tie Judge Diane O. Leasure to the sagging fortunes of her one-time benefactor, Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The ad renews last week's charge by the challengers that Leasure gained an unfair advantage over other applicants for Howard's Circuit Court bench by helping plan a fund-raiser for Glendening days before he appointed her and Donna Hill Staton.

Both the charge and the ad mark a renewed aggressiveness by the challengers, District Judge Lenore Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith, who, like their opponents, promised a kinder general election campaign after March's bitter and expensive primary.

The new ad attacks the ethics of Leasure and tries to link Glendening -- who lost in Howard County in 1994 and has suffered a series of recent political troubles -- to his appointees Leasure and Hill Staton.

It is a prospect that worries the sitting judges' supporters.

"Of course it's a potential problem," said their campaign chairwoman, Lin Eagan. "That would really be a shame if, instead of the quality of the judges, {voters} looked at the man who appointed them. I think you just have to look beyond Glendening."

But Carol Arscott, a campaign consultant to the sitting judges, said the attack shows weakness from the challengers. They have "got to run against the governor because there's nothing else they can say," Arscott said. "I think the Howard County voters are more sophisticated than the Gelfman-Smith campaign gives them credit for."

The new ad also reflects a targeting of the challengers' attacks on Leasure, who finished second only to Gelfman in total votes in the primary.

Even if Gelfman holds her lead in the general election Nov. 5, Leasure would have to lose ground for Smith to win.

Leasure and Hill Staton led on the Democratic side, and Gelfman and Smith on the Republican side in the primary. Party affiliations will not be listed on the general election ballots, with voters required to pick two of the four contenders.

The ad opens with a picture of the invitation to the fund-raiser last October, when Leasure was one of a dozen planners whose names were listed in the invitation to the $350-a-person golf tournament.

"Diane Leasure helped plan an event that raised $17,000 for Governor Glendening," a voice-over says as pictures of Glendening and Leasure appear. "And what did he do for her? Just eight days later, he made her a Circuit Court judge."

Smith and Gelfman have offered no evidence that Leasure's participation in the fund-raiser directly led to her appointment -- a charge both Leasure and Glendening's office have vigorously disputed.

"I think it's outrageous. I think it's irresponsible. I think it's incorrect," said John W. Frece, Glendening's communications director. "She's eminently qualified to be a judge, and this is a mean-spirited distortion of her record and the governor's. It's a cheap shot."

Leasure also has vigorously denied that her role in the fund-raiser -- which she has called "minimal" -- helped her get the judicial appointment.

She declined to comment on the issue Friday. But when her rivals first raised the issue a week ago, she said, "When someone is an attorney, there is no prohibition involved in being part of an activity like this. There's absolutely nothing inappropriate about it. I have a clear conscience."

Leasure's "clear conscience" is a focus of the Gelfman-Smith ad. The camera briefly focuses on that quote, then a voice-over says, "Governor Glendening and Diane Leasure -- they just don't get it."

In an interview, Smith said, "I think Judge Leasure's role in the fund-raiser was troubling. But what is even more troubling is her present inability to see the implications of her behavior."

Campaigns rarely miss a chance to spotlight the alleged ethical problems -- big or small -- of their rivals, but the ad shows the Gelfman-Smith campaign's eagerness to dent the popularity of Leasure.

The Gelfman-Smith campaign is also beginning to look like a training ground for the widely expected rematch between Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, whom he narrowly beat in 1994 and likely will face again in 1998.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, an Ellicott City Republican, is a top supporter of Sauerbrey and in recent weeks he has become an increasingly important adviser to the Gelfman-Smith campaign.

Flanagan almost always refers to Leasure and Hill Staton as "the Glendening judges" and their financial contributors as "the Glendening fund-raising machine." Today's new ad seems an extension of that strategy.

After recent troubles concerning some of Glendening's fund-raising activities, it may be an effective strategy. Polls suggest his popularity is running low, and even some fellow Democrats have talked of mounting a primary election challenge against him in 1998.

"He's very unpopular all over the state," Flanagan said last week. "We've chosen to point out the connection {with the judges}. We think it's something the voters ought to keep in mind when making their decision."

The ad is scheduled to run on five Comcast Cable stations in Howard County, including CNN and TNT.

Pub Date: 10/14/96


Caption: Incumbent: Judge Diane O. Leasure is the target of a TV ad.

Credit: SUN STAFF: 1995

Copyright 1996 The Baltimore Sun Company