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Support grows for DUI Indian-American lawmaker
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | December 10, 2007 13:00 IST
Senior colleagues, long-time friends and the Indian-American community leaders had sprung to the defence of Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, the senior-most Indian American lawmaker, Kumar Barve, who was arrested on November 29 in Gaithersburg in Montgomery Country, which he represents, for drunken driving.
Barve, a Democrat, who is the Maryland House Majority Leader, who has strongly supported stricter legislation against drunken driving and co-sponsored the law that changed the state's legal blood-alcohol level from 0.10 to 0.08, according to the police had failed a field sobriety test, and a breath test, which had indicated that his blood alcohol level was .10. The legal limit is .08.
The 49-year-old lawmaker, first elected to the House of Delegates in 1990 and has been majority leader since 2003, told rediff.com that he had retained one of his colleagues Delegate Luiz R S Simmons, also a Democrat, and an attorney, who along with Barve represents District 17, to represent him.
"On the advise of counsel, I have taken a position of not talking to anybody officially in the press," he said, but acknowledged that "at some point when it would be appropriate for me to comment, I will do so".
Barve is one of the most powerful state lawmakers and is a member of the influential Ways and Means Committee and chairman of its subcommittee on revenue. He also sits on the Joint Technology Oversight, Legislative Policy and Spending Affordability Committees.
In 2003, he was among those who pushed for the change in the state law that made it illegal for people to drive within 12 hours of getting arrested on a driving while intoxicated charge or a drug charge.
Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch told rediff.com, "We all have human failings, even things we believe sincerely in. I don't think it changes anything about Kumar's thoughts, and he probably feels worse about it than anyone else."
"I think the biggest thing is--at least from my standpoint is--to be supportive of him during this period of need," he said, and added, "Look, I've been around Kumar a lot in my 22 years -- as much as any other legislator -- and I've never known him to really drink. And, you know, this is out of character and obviously a mistake."
Busch said, "He's like everyone else. I wish I didn't make any mistakes either. But, I mean, I know he'll take responsible action and make the corrections, and we are all going to stay with him."
He said, "We will support him 100 percent. We're like a family down here. You don't turn your back on someone when they've made a mistake."
Busch said that "We know that with Kumar's dedication to his job and to the legislature and his community�and we are going to help him work his way through it."
"This is a little bump in the road, and we are there for him 100 percent," he added.
Dr Suresh Gupta of Potomac, Maryland, one of Barve's longtime supporters and fundraisers, and a Democratic Party stalwart, said this was "very unfortunate".
"I have known Kumar for almost 20 years, and I've never seen him drunk or take an excess of liquor or anything of that sort," he said. "People make mistakes and this should not be looked as anything but just that -- an unfortunate mistake. And, no one should ever sit in judgment."
Gupta said, "He's the kind of fella that I would go out of my way to do whatever I need to do for him. Even now, this is not going to change my support for him or my respect for him."
"Our community should support him and let him know and others know that he is still our man and we are there for him and with him all the way in Maryland and wherever else he goes," he said.
Gupta's sentiments were echoed by Dr Pradeep Ganguly, who is the chief of Economic Development in the Montgomery County Administration and a longtime community activist.
"This was an aberration," he said. "It's so unfortunate. I've known him for a long time �for about 20 years--and let's face it, everybody makes a mistake some time in life. But let's not forget that he's been a wonderful role model for our community and has been a tower of strength for all of us."
Ganguly told rediff.com, "As I told you, I've known him for some 20 years, and I've never known him to abuse alcohol or get into trouble. And, as you know, he was one of the first people to support legislation to drop the threshold."
"I remember all the events we've had at my house and at other places. He would be the person who would volunteer to be the designated driver and drive the people who were under the influence to their homes, rather then let them drive."
Ganguly, said, "Unfortunately, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. But, again, I tell you, he's truly a role model for the community. He has done a lot for us and we should never forget that. So, no one should sit on judgment on this."
"His contributions go way beyond one little incident like this. Before this, he hasn't ever crossed the line on anything--whether ethical, moral or any other thing," he added.
According to the Gaithersburg Police, Barve had been stopped by police officer Shane Eastman after he saw a green Acura Integra at about 11.40 pm, drive through a parking lot driveway in Old Town Gaithersburg marked 'entrance only,' and veered over the double yellow line.
It was then that Eastman had pulled Barve over, and had smelled alcohol when he approved him.
Police spokesman Sgt Rudy Wagner said that when Barve was asked if he had been drinking, the latter had admitted that he had had two drinks, and "was cooperative".
It was then that Barve has been administered the field sobriety test and a preliminary breath test, and when he failed both, had been handcuffed and taken to the county police station in Gaithersburg, where he had refused a blood-alcohol test.
Wagner said that although Barve had failed these tests, they were not admissible in court, but were used by an officer in making a decision on whether to make an arrest.
Police charged him on four counts -- driving under the influence, driving while impaired, failure to obey a traffic device and failure to drive right of the centre line, and released him around 1 am on November 30.