It must be autumn. Leaves are turning. Geese are flying. And, of course, there's that seasonal frost on the relationship between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg.
The two men have never been great pals, State House insiders say. Periodic rifts between the two have been common in the nearly four years they have been in Annapolis as the state's two highest public officials.
"It happens every fall," notes one source close to the men.
But these days, insiders suggest, the gap between the two men is wide enough to parallel park the "Do It Now" bus, the full-sized, Diesel-powered behemoth the governor sometimes uses to cruise around the state.
Although both Schaefer and Steinberg have attempted to downplay the latest rift -- which would reflect poorly on an effort to appear united in their bid for a second term in Annapolis -- insiders say Steinberg has grown increasingly weary over how he has been treated both in the campaign and in the Schaefer administration.
When the pair ran for office four years ago, the two were promoted as a team with Steinberg's name and picture often getting equal prominence with Schaefer's.
Under the Schaefer-Steinberg Campaign for Maryland's 1990 re-election effort, the lieutenant governor is noticeably missing from most of the media hullabaloo orchestrated by the campaign staff.
On early fund-raiser tickets, only Schaefer's name was mentioned. Steinberg is missing from Schaefer's television ads and from most of the campaign posters and placards.
"It's so startling now," says Steinberg, "because four years ago it was 100 percent. This year it's like 25 percent."
The curious case of the missing running mate was most obvious at the Schaefer-Steinberg primary election celebration hall in Baltimore where about 60 photographs of the governor -- most of them bigger than life -- were stapled and taped on walls and tables. Steinberg's picture was displayed 14 times.
When the two men finally arrived to claim victory that night, Schaefer took the stage without Steinberg.
Steinberg supporters say privately that the lieutenant governor has been snubbed intentionally by Schaefer and his inner circle of supporters, who jealously regard the governor as the only one who should get the credit for the administration's accomplishments.
"There is little room in that galaxy for another planet," said one Steinberg friend.
On the other hand, Schaefer supporters suggest Steinberg has a not-so-hidden agenda of seeking the governor's seat in 1994. And, as a result of that, they continue, Steinberg has been slow to do his part in raising money for the 1990 campaign warchest -- already bulging with more than $2 million -- because they say he wants to reserve the resources for his own gubernatorial race
The latest coolness between the two men blew chillingly into the public sector a week ago when Steinberg chastised the Campaign for Maryland staff for setting up a fund-raising arm under his name without his knowledge or permission.
Steinberg described as "overkill" the attempt to raise additional money from contributors who already had given to Schaefer's Reflections treasury. He said he would be help raise money, but requested that the name of the new Citizens for Steinberg be changed.
Jim Smith, Schaefer's campaign manager, said this week that the name of the group remains the same.
"It wasn't a pressing matter," he said, adding that no fund-raising events are planned under Steinberg's name alone. Steinberg says that if that's the case, he considers the issue resolved.
But by itself, that was not enough to quiet talk in the the State House that the Schaefer-Steinberg relationship is cold.
The two have seldom been seen together during the campaign, although campaign staffers say the reason is because the two can cover more ground by going separate routes.
But observers have noted that at campaign stops the governor seldom even mentions his running mate.
A campaign "zip trip" through Howard County earlier this week was unusual because Schaefer and Steinberg, accompanied by other Democratic candidates, traveled together.
Not until late in the day, when the governor spoke to a group of senior citizens living in Columbia, did Schaefer attempt to praise his running mate.
"When we ran together four years ago," he told the gathering, "we ran with one objective -- that we'd all have something to do because lieutenant governors usually don't do anything. They're never assigned anything."
Laughter greeted his words. "That's a bad thing to say," he said, and then started anew. "Lieutenant governors don't do anything. . . ," he tried again without finishing his sentence.
Seconds later he credited Steinberg with helping the administration pass important legislation. "We've made a good team," he said, "and we want to continue on."
For his part, Steinberg acknowledges the latest round of rift gossip. But he attributes most of it to political sniping.