Did you really think you could get rid of Dana Lee Dembrow?
June 6, 2003

Ex-delegate Dana Lee Dembrow is back, and he's not changing a bit.

After getting tossed in the political dustbin by voters last September after he and his wife had a bloody altercation, Dembrow has been hired to write policy directives for the Department of Juvenile Services.

Dembrow, who was charged and later acquitted of assault after his wife, Suzette, refused to testify, has long since reconciled with her but remains bitter about what he sees as unfair coverage by the media and underhanded attacks by his opponents. His fellow District 20 lawmakers exploited campaign laws to send thousands of anonymous attack mailings highlighting his voting record and the assault charges in the final days of the campaign.

Dembrow said getting his new $65,000-a-year job was "a no-brainer" because of his extensive experience on the House Judiciary Committee writing criminal law. He formed relationships on the committee with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Kenneth Montague, the new Juvenile Services secretary.

"I'm a happy guy," said Dembrow, who also said that his hiring shouldn't be a big deal because he is "overqualified and underpaid."

"I have had a lot of hardship in the past year. I'm not perfect. If others are more perfect than I am, more power to them."

Dembrow said he has an affinity for Ehrlich dating to their time together on Judiciary. "He is a libertarian like I am."

Dembrow appeared at a Democrats for Ehrlich event after his defeat in last year's Democratic primary, and had likened attacks on Ehrlich's record to the attacks he faced from fellow Democrats.

"I just thought, what a bunch of baloney, this is what they did to me," Dembrow said.

Dembrow said he also may consider leaving the Democratic Party if it continues to promote big government, high taxes and catering to special interests.

He said he does not know if he will run for political office again.

As for his personal life, Dembrow said that things are back on track, and that he is happy he is waking up with Suzette and enjoying his children.

Dembrow referred to the incident, which had his wife calling 911 as she sobbed and bled from her nose, as "difficulties she had at the end of the session to which I responded inappropriately."

"I look at life as a test of my patience, and you take things with a grain of salt."

-- Steven T. Dennis

Curtains for curtains

New window dressings in the Thomas V. Mike Miller Senate Office Building -- occasionally referred to as the Taj Mikhail -- won't be hung anytime soon.

The Ehrlich administration has put the kibosh on a proposed $52,000 contract to buy new curtains for the barely 3-year-old building.

With a half-billion dollars in state budget cuts and all-around belt-tightening looming, this is not the time for frivolous spending, said Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick.

"The timing could not be worse," he said.

-- Thomas Dennison

and Eric Kelderman

Cas in the lobby

Former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. -- six months after his historic 72-vote loss to a political neophyte -- will return to the State House halls next year as a lobbyist for the powerhouse Annapolis firm Alexander & Cleaver.

Taylor, the longest-serving House speaker in Maryland history, is a former chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee and is expected to bring heavy dividends to the firm because of his expertise in health care and his longtime support of legalizing slot machines. Lobbyists for Alexander & Cleaver represent an impressive portfolio of health care clients, but it is not one of the capital's top firms in the sweepstakes to legalize slots.

"We are not targeting any specific clients," said Gary Alexander, who served with Taylor on the Economic Matters Committee and was speaker pro-tem when Taylor was first elected speaker. "People know him, and they know what services he can offer."

The Alexander-Taylor reunion had Annapolis insiders abuzz Wednesday and Thursday because the Taylor hire has been rumored for weeks. (When The Gazette asked about hiring the former speaker last week, both Taylor and Alexander denied anything was in the offing.)

One delegate who has worked with both of them in the House said Taylor was responsible for building up Alexander's client list when he decided to leave the House in 1995 and start up his lobbying firm.

By moving to the lobbying ranks, Taylor joins another former House speaker, Clay Mitchell, and other former lawmakers, such as Laurence Levitan, a former Montgomery County senator and head of the Budget and Taxation Committee, and Barbara Hoffman, a former Baltimore senator who took over for Levitan as head of the Budget and Taxation Committee. Others include American Joe Miedusiewski, a former Baltimore County delegate, and Dennis Rasmussen, a former Baltimore County senator.

Taylor will head a new office that Alexander is opening in Cumberland and will work for the firm full-time beginning July 15.

-- Thomas Dennison

Mystery candidate

The Gazette has learned a little more about the mystery candidate who Maryland Republicans are hoping will unseat freshman Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Dist. 8).

Maryland Republican Party Chairman John Kane has been giddy yet secretive about describing his so-called viable candidate, who he believes has a chance to defeat Van Hollen, the former Montgomery County state senator who unseated moderate Republican Connie Morella last fall.

At Ehrlich's fund-raiser Tuesday evening, Eric Sutton, executive director of the state GOP, had a slip of the tongue in telling The Gazette that the mystery candidate is a "he" and is "a Republican," meaning the GOP is not hoping for a Democrat to change parties.

Another Republican, who is familiar with the candidate but would not reveal his name, said the mystery man has to inform his employer of his political ambitions before jumping headlong into the race.

For the record, John Kane is not the candidate, Sutton said.

-- Thomas Dennison

She's back

But there is no mystery behind another candidate who might take a shot at Van Hollen. Deborah Vollmer, the three-time Maryland congressional contender and most recently a long shot in last fall's primary race, says she's all but decided to run against the congressman again in 2004. And she has already kicked off a "listening tour" -- a la Hillary Clinton, she said -- with that in mind.

"Congressman Van Hollen is doing good things, but his mindset is too cautious and there are issues where he should be taking a leadership role when he's not," said the Chevy Chase attorney, who also ran for Congress in California twice before her first Maryland campaign in 1998.

Vollmer is steamed about one Van Hollen vote in particular, supporting a resolution that expressed support for President Bush's "firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq." The resolution passed by a wide margin on a vote of 392-11, but Vollmer thinks Van Hollen should have sided with the 22 representatives who voted "present."

"If I do run, it's not going to be based on that one vote. But I think it's important for someone to be able to resist the pressure of the moment and do the right thing," she said.

While freely acknowledging she'd be "a long shot again, like I was the last time," Vollmer thinks a well-organized grassroots campaign could gain her as much one-third of the vote.

"I think we can do it," she said.

-- Catherine Dolinski

No answer

A bill to fine pesky cellular phone users for leaving their ringers on during public performances will not be considered by the County Council.

"I don't have the votes for it," said Councilman Howard A. Denis (R-Dist. 1) of Chevy Chase, the sponsor of the legislation. "I'm not going to bring it up if I don't have sufficient votes for it."

The bill, which was introduced in February, would fine people $50 if their phones interrupt movies or other public events at art galleries or theatres. Second-time violators would face a $75 fine.

Denis said the issue is a "pet peeve" of his, and he continues to encounter rude people whose phones interrupt performances. The intent of the legislation, he explained, was to force patrons to pay attention to warnings from management to turn the devices off.

"They make the announcement and they say turn the cell phones off, and some people don't do it," Denis said.

-- David Abrams

Taking credit where it's due?

Montgomery County Council President Michael L. Subin (D-At large) of Gaithersburg was sure to point out who deserved the kudos for the rise in second-grade test scores reported by the school system last week.

"Don't let any elected official take credit for this," Subin told a gathering of educators and county officials at a May 30 news conference touting the testing gains. "You did it, you did it, you did it," he concluded emphatically.

"I'm glad I spoke after Mr. Subin," said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). Duncan joked that because of Subin's exhortation, he would forgo a speech taking full credit for the educational advances in the county. "I don't know what the hell I'm going to say now."

-- Eric Kelderman

Winfree without wheels

First she had her county car taken away from her. Now it is her driver's license.

Three weeks after pleading guilty to driving while impaired, Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree has had her driving privilege taken away.

An administrative judge suspended Winfree's driving license for 120 days at a hearing Wednesday afternoon in Gaithersburg, according to Angie Linger, a spokeswoman for the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

The drunken driving incident dates back to Dec. 7, when Winfree was returning to her Bethesda home from an office party and a county police officer spotted her county-owned car being driven on its right front wheel rim, with sparks shooting out.

Because it was her first violation, a District Court judge placed Winfree on probation before judgment on May 12, which means she does not have a conviction on her record unless she commits a violation again during her 18-month probation.

-- Manju Subramanya


In last week's Reporters Notebook, we highlighted state Sen. Paula Hollinger's ability to spell Saskatchewan without looking it up.

Unfortunately, we spelled the word two different ways in the same column. Needless to say, we won't be taking on Hollinger in any spelling bee challenges.

-- David Abrams