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Posted at 11:01 AM ET, 06/10/2010

Book cheers Md. lobbyist

By Washington Post Editors

Not many statehouse lobbyists get credit in a book, let alone get a book all about them. But Michael Pertschuk pays homage to Maryland's indefatigable public interest campaigner Vinny DeMarco in a new book, “The DeMarco Factor: Transforming Public Will Into Political Power.”

The 220-page study of DeMarco's grass-roots campaigns to defeat Maryland's powerful gun and tobacco lobbies with tougher gun-control laws and steeper cigarette taxes is due out from Vanderbilt University Press on Thursday. Subject and writer will launch a book tour with a 1:30 p.m. media event in the Prince George's County delegation room in the Lowe building in Annapolis.

Most Annapolis insiders know the 53-year-old DeMarco as the unflappable, smiling, media-hounding and sometimes maddening executive director of the Baltimore-based Maryland Citizens Health Initiative. Pertschuk, an author, consumer advocate and chairman of the Federal Trade Commission from 1977 to 1981, casts DeMarco in a new light: As a hero of the social justice movement who has "transformed public will into political power" again and again.

When the General Assembly is in session, DeMarco's the rumpled and charming nag of the lobbying corps, seeking media coverage and pressuring governors, Senate and House leaders, lawmakers and their staffs to promote his causes. Three years ago he joined forces with House Speaker Mike Busch and Del. Pete Hammen, the chairman of the House health committee, to pass a major expansion of Medicaid in Maryland. The book chronicles this fight, along with DeMarco's successful campaigns against the National Rifle Association, the tobacco lobby, Wal-Mart and the health-care industry.

According to Pertschuk, DeMarco's success lies in his strategy of organizing broad coalitions with often-opposing agendas: faith communities, unions, business interests. When there is "generalized popular voter support" for a change in policy, DeMarco harnesses public sentiment by convincing potential allies to sign broad resolutions of support. Then he tries to jolt the legislature into action.

Pertschuk, a leader in the tobacco control movement, makes no apologies for his advocacy, which borders on fawning. "This is not an arm's-length book," he writes. "I've written it because I greatly respect [DeMarco's] leadership and strategies." He calls his subject a modern-day Don Quixote who "lives and works simply," in contrast to his nemesis in the lobbying corps, veteran tobacco-interest advocate Bruce Bereano, who "operates out of an elegant townhouse near the Capitol -- and drives his Mercedes to host a lunch at an upscale restaurant for two former governors."

Amid the heavy-handedness, Pertschuk gives Bereano a chance to vent, quoting him calling DeMarco "egotistical and self-centered" in his cultivation of the media.

Community organizers will find in the book a primer on how to influence policy. Maryland political junkies will find a guide to the inner workings and characters of Annapolis that will resonate in today's campaign for governor between incumbent Martin O'Malley (D) and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) Journalists will discover more about DeMarco's strategy for cajoling them to write about his issues.

DeMarco and Pertschuk are scheduled to appear at the Politics and Prose bookstore on Connecticut Avenue NW in the District at 7 p.m. on June 18.

-- Lisa Rein

By Washington Post Editors  | June 10, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  Maryland  
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