Farewell to newspapering ...on Maryland politics

Peter Kumpa

January 18, 1991|By Peter Kumpa

This is my last column on Maryland politics. I'm leaving the business, the newspaper business. After 40 years with the xTC Baltimore Sun, it may be time enough. But my departure is not completely voluntary. There have been inducements for some of us old-timers, a small pocket of cash and health-insurance subsidies for a few years. So I leave with a shuffle of other $H seniors, some of them with well-known bylines, some the sharp-eyed editors who kept us honest in facts and language.

I have tried in the past few years to bring to those Marylanders with a taste for politics another element in that illustrious and necessary trade. I have tried to discover who is running for what and sometimes why. Gossip. Decent gossip. It was not the sort of stuff that once upset Justice Louis Brandeis. "The press is overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and decency," he wrote. "Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued with industry as well as effrontery."

I hope I didn't overstep the bounds of decency. To those who believe I did I offer an apology. It was unintentional, part of an effort to give readers a full picture of what was happening to those who lead our state and write our laws.

There have been mistakes. Back on May 2, 1986, this column reported that Del. R. Clayton Mitchell was "95 percent" to be the running mate of Mayor William Donald Schaefer in that year's gubernatorial race. By June 5, I reversed directions and told of the mayor talking to one Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg, the Senate president.

For the Democratic primaries that year, I predicted, timidly not boldly, that Sen. Clarence Mitchell 3rd was going to win the congressional contest. So he finished third. Out in Baltimore County, I had Del. Tom Kernan all but anointed as the Democratic nominee for county executive. Of course, he was creamed by Sen. Dennis Rasmussen.

Recently, I reported that Del. Tim Maloney was a guest of lobbyist Bruce Bereano at the latest Redskin game. Maloney sent me a correction. He was one of six legislators there. But he added, "I wrote a check that day on the spot for my ticket, drove myself, paid for my gasoline, paid for my own program, and brought my own hot dog. To my knowledge, Mr. Bereano paid none of my expenses." Thank you and apologies, Mr. Maloney.

Some politicians are tough to pin down. The champion in that category has to be Gov. William Donald Schaefer. He is without a doubt the most faithful and intense reader of this and every other newspaper within his reach. Who else goes through every brief news item, every boring editorial, line by line, and word by word? Who else honors the press unwittingly with his criticism, though he sounds as if he had never heard of the First Amendment?

When she was finishing her career in Congress, Marjorie Holt proved adept at denying any retirement plans. She would insist that she told her close friends every two years that she was quitting. Sure.

Mrs. Holt gets the award for the best grandparent's tale. When her grandson asked her age, she told him that it wasn't polite to ask ladies that question. Then he found her driver's license and learned her secret. "I know how old you are," he told her. "You're 65. You weigh 135 pounds. And, you got an 'F' on sex."

Leaving isn't easy. When Sen. John Coolahan departed from the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, he left with immortal words. "I need to be loved," he said, "but only by my wife and children." Hear! Hear!

When Del. Dennis McCoy left the legislature for the wonderful world of lobbying, he left with this wisdom: "You get tired of doing the same old things."

We aren't tired yet. We expect to be writing some lines for the members of the Maryland Senate in Annapolis. And if we have breathing time, we hope to continue exploring the state's fascinating past for editorial-page history columns.

The tough part about leaving is the loosening of ties with colleagues, reporters, writers, editors and artists, old and young, male and female. The reason why many newspapermen stay too long and have to be wedged out of their jobs is other newspapermen. We tend to like each other. We enjoy each other's company. We can kid each other. We can appreciate what it takes to report and write, a strange art. And we worry about the future of newspapers because we believe they are necessary for a better city and a better state.

It was a former editor here who once wrote that "the average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist [and] the courage of a rat." Those were but the complimentary parts of his essay. The writer, only H. L. Mencken. That was all hogwash. He knew better. And he never quit but left the business when he was carried away. I am walking out. Thank you and goodbye.

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