SILVER SPRING, Md. – With all the cordial sternness of a 28-year state police veteran, Paul H. Rappaport looks voters straight in the eyes and firmly but quietly explains why a fresh mind is needed in the attorney general’s office, and how as Maryland’s chief lawyer, he would continue the crime-fighting crusade he began at 17.
Rappaport, the Republican nominee opposing Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., has latched onto crime prevention as his key to election.
The slight 64-year-old with neatly combed white hair tells audiences he is as determined to battle crime as he was when he started his police career as barrack clerk for the Maryland State Police Department, 10 days after high school graduation.
His goals, if elected, would be:
* To increase illegal drug seizures and vigorously defend officers in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which alleges troopers disproportionately pulled over African Americans in highway traffic stops.
* To create a task force to study ways to prevent crime and speed up the judicial process. “The problem is not arresting criminals, it’s prosecuting them,” Rappaport said at a recent candidates’ forum at The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring.
* To streamline business regulations by forming a panel to determine which regulations are too burdensome, and then lobbying the General Assembly to remove them.
Rappaport also said the attorney general’s office should take complete control of a $13 billion state suit against tobacco companies, which attempts to recover Medicaid money spent treating patients with smoking-related diseases. Curran assigned the suit to Baltimore attorney and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who would collect 12.5 percent of any money the state is awarded.
“Curran has the largest law firm in Maryland. Why would he or the state want to give millions away?” Rappaport asked.
Curran said he gave the case to Angelos because the cost of such a long-running suit is exorbitant.
He said he welcomed Rappaport’s candidacy. “I love campaigning,” Curran said. “Competition gives me a chance to explain to people what I do.”
A Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. poll conducted Oct. 15-17 of 821 likely voters showed Rappaport trailing Curran, 27 percent to 46 percent. But Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Joyce Lyons Terhes said Rappaport could win in a Republican sweep led by GOP gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
Del Ali, vice president of Mason-Dixon, was not so sure. “If voters do go for Sauerbrey, they may want to ticket-split to keep the government from being too Republican,” he said.
Curran has criticized Rappaport for misunderstanding the job’s responsibilities and for being the less-experienced candidate. Curran has been a state senator, lieutenant governor and three-term attorney general.
“He still thinks being the attorney general is all about fighting crime,” Curran said. “He thinks the office drafts regulations and directs police, but we only advise on the legality of the regulations.”
Rappaport, of Ellicott City, said his 24 years as a private lawyer, 28 years as a state trooper and eight years as Howard County police chief have put him more in touch with people’s safety concerns than Curran is.
He said one example of a safety issue Curran has ignored is the amount of illegal drugs on the streets.
Despite anti-gun control stances, Rappaport has been endorsed by the Maryland Troopers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 76, which represents state troopers.
Rappaport said laws that limit gun purchases, outlaw “Saturday Night Specials” and require guns to have safety locks increase the price of guns for law-abiding buyers and do nothing to deter criminals. “We can lower crimes committed with guns by just enforcing the laws on the books,” he said.
Both troopers’ groups said they endorsed Rappaport because of his police background and promise to support officers.
Curran was endorsed by the Maryland Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, representing all police officers in Maryland.POLICE CHIEF
Rappaport had several turbulent years as Howard County’s police chief, from 1979 to mid-87, when the county’s population and diversity were increasing.
In August 1984, the NAACP Howard County branch asked county officials to investigate Rappaport because they complained minorities were vastly under-represented in the police department.
According to a Howard County Human Rights Commission two- year review released in January 1987, the county was 16 percent black, but only about 10 percent of the police force was. No black police officers had been promoted to the ranks of lieutenant or captain since Rappaport had become chief, the report said. The commission recommended to County Executive Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat, that the police department hire more blacks and women.
Rappaport maintains the NAACP’s accusations were false. And William Eakle, who was county administrator at the time, said Rappaport brought more women and minorities into the department than ever before. In 1978, only 2 percent of the officers were black, Eakle said.
But criticisms of Rappaport did not stop there. In May 1986, the Howard County Police Officers Association voted 52-6 “no confidence” in Rappaport, complaining he had eliminated two police rankings, failed to update radio equipment, and failed to give a salary bonus to officers who had been in the department for more than six years.
The union ran several newspaper ads criticizing Rappaport, saying he was not protecting the county adequately.
Looking back, Rappaport said the incident was a power struggle. He said current members of the police union now endorse him.
And not everyone saw his job performance as police chief in a negative light.
Mike Dana, who worked with Rappaport as part of a federal law enforcement assistance program, remembers him as an “extremely dynamic and creative” police chief who started community policing.
“He understood that police should not drive their car through the neighborhood, but stop and walk around,” Dana said.
But Bobo replaced Rappaport in 1987. “I wanted someone who would spend more time with officers in the community,” she said.
Years have brought reconciliation. The former president of the county NAACP branch, the Rev. John L. Wright, who criticized Rappaport in 1984, now endorses him. “I think his philosophies have changed,” Wright said.
Rappaport said he if elected attorney general, he would represent all Marylanders. “No group is more interested in getting drugs off the street than African Americans,” he said.
His name will appear on next week’s ballot with his wife’s, Margaret Rappaport. It’s the second time they’ll appear on the ballot together.
In 1994, Rappaport unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor, on a ticket with Sauerbrey; his wife ran for a second term as clerk of the Howard County Circuit Court. She is now running for a third term.
She said she is the one who encouraged him to go into law school and later politics. She remembers asking him while they were dating, “Why don’t you go to school?” He attended night classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law for 10 years, graduating with honors “despite being a state trooper and raising a family at the same time,” Mrs. Rappaport recalled. He is hopeful about next week’s elections. “It’s not an easy race, but about 27 percent of voters are undecided,” Rappaport said. “I think Maryland voters are looking for a change.” -30-