US Rep. Nicholas Mavroules (D) of Massachusetts faces an uphill reelection battle after his indictment Aug. 27 by a federal grand jury on 17 charges, including tax evasion, influence peddling, and bribery.
The indictment, made public less than three weeks before the Sept. 15 state Democratic primary, followed a nine-month federal investigation of the incumbent congressman, who has represented the Bay State's Sixth District for the past 14 years.
Representative Mavroules, a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, has helped secure military work for defense contractors in his district. But his record on defense is mixed. In 1981, he became the chief advocate for the nuclear-freeze resolution and, in 1983, he helped lead the House fight against building the MX missile.
Political analysts say that the charges against Mavroules, most of which he has denied, may knock him out of the race in the primary, long before the November election. He has tried to get the indictments dropped or delayed until after the election.
Already, the indictment has hurt him politically. This week, former presidential candidate and US Sen. Paul Tsongas (D) of Massachusetts said he would withhold endorsement of the congressman because of the charges.
"These [charges] go beyond writing some rubber checks in the House bank," says Paul Watanabe, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. "I think that these kinds of things are the worst nightmares and potentially the worst breaches of the public trust."
While some charges go back as early as 1973 when he was mayor of Peabody, Mass., others focus on Mavroules's questionable financial dealings as a congressman.
The indictment charges Mavroules with these allegations, and more:
* Extortion of $25,000 from a Massachusetts liquor store in exchange for a full liquor license.
* Accepting more than $10,000 from a Connecticut family to transfer a prisoner from a federal prison to a minimum-security facility in Florida.
* Accepting free use of automobiles and failing to report their use on federal income taxes and House financial-disclosure forms.
Critics say the charges were politically motivated, aimed at hurting the congressman at a critical time. But in the midst of the negative front-page publicity, he has maintained a strong base of support in his northeastern Massachusetts district. "I think Mavroules has always taken us very seriously as a voter constituent," says John Iacobucci, chairman of the Amesbury Town Democratic Committee.
Mavroules faces two Democrats in the primary: state Rep. Barbara Hildt and Eric Elbot, an administrator at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Representative Hildt, a pro-choice liberal, poses the most serious Democratic challenge to Mavroules, an anti-abortionist.
"People are disgusted with Congress and the inaction with the check-kiting scandal and all of the perks. People have been looking for an alternative," says Susan Shaer, Hildt's campaign manager.
Republicans are also taking advantage of the chance to unseat an incumbent in the state's 11-member, all-Democratic congressional delegation. Mavroules faces two strong GOP challengers if he makes it to the general election, including former state GOP executive director Alexander Tennant and former state Rep. Peter Torkildsen.
But Mavroules has a challenging primary fight ahead since he faces only one strong Democratic opponent, says William Schneider, political analyst for the American Enterprise Institute. "Generally, if an incumbent is in trouble ... he wants seven opponents." In this way, the vote is divided and an incumbent can hang on by his small base of support through a small percentage of the vote, says Mr. Schneider.