Angry Schaefer surprises Catonsville critic at home

March 12, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Less than three weeks after promising to write no more poison-pen letters to his detractors, Gov. William Donald Schaefer decided to lambaste a critic in person.

Last Saturday, Cornelius J. Hourihan of Catonsville was surprised to find an angry governor on his doorstep, anxious to chat about some critical letters and later threatening to sue.

"I knew it wasn't Jehovah's Witnesses that come around the weekends because they never have drivers," said Mr. Hourihan, 50. "I said, 'Well, Mr. Mayor, I guess you've come to talk about my letters.' He said, 'Yes, I have.' "

The letters, actually copies of unpublished letters to The Sun's editorial page Mr. Hourihan had forwarded to the governor, took Mr. Schaefer to task for everything from the state's multimillion-dollar deficit to his remark early last month comparing the Eastern Shore to a "s---house."

Mr. Hourihan, a 50-year-old engineer employed by Westinghouse Electric Corp., said that over a cup of coffee at his kitchen table, the governor launched into an hourlong "in-depth monologue" about his troubles.

The governor was particularly incensed over a letter that criticized him for allowing Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano to buy $7,500 worth of tickets to a Democratic Governors' Association dinner in Washington on his behalf, Mr. Hourihan said.

In his letter, Mr. Hourihan suggested that "His Royal Highness Schaefer and the whole pack of thieves ought to be brought before a citizens' court and tried for high crimes of chutzpah in office, official brazenness, social effrontery, bald arrogance and downright gall."

The governor called that remark libelous and threatened to sue several times, Mr. Hourihan said.

"I think he [Governor Schaefer] fails to understand the irony of my humor," Mr. Hourihan said.

"I told him, 'Mr. Mayor, is it possible you have done too much for us citizens of Maryland?' Before I could continue, he said, 'You're exactly right.' "

Page Boinest, a spokesman for the governor, confirmed yesterday that Mr. Schaefer spent time at the Hourihan household but declined to comment further "on what the governor does with his personal time."

The governor publicly promised to stop writing personal -- and sometimes downright venomous -- notes to his detractors last month after arousing a lot of criticism.

Previous Schaefer missives have described a Westminster pundit as a "frustrated little boy" and informed one woman that her "action only exceeds the ugliness of your face" for giving him the thumbs-down during a campaign event. (He insists she gave him the finger-up.)

Ms. Boinest said she was skeptical that the governor's visit would lead to more such gubernatorial adventures. But after reading Mr. Hourihan's letters, she said she understood what might have motivated the governor.

"A cursory glance to the letters suggests that he [Mr. Hourihan] is ill-informed in state matters," Ms. Boinest said.

Mr. Hourihan said he and the governor were joined by his brother John, a Silver Spring resident, and his 75-year-old mother, Mary Hourihan.

"The two of us would have gotten into it quite well if my mother hadn't been there," Mr. Hourihan said.

The former Baltimore resident said the conversation wasn't entirely confrontational. Governor Schaefer, Mr. Hourihan said, even complimented him for not being "like those other yellow-bellied cowards who are not man enough to sign their names."

The two men disagreed about such things as the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars to pump sand onto Ocean City's beach and Mr. Schaefer's decision to accept a $40,000 raise this year, but they did find two things to agree on.

They involved state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, a 77-year-old veritable state institution who has held statewide office for 33 years, and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, with whom the governor has had his differences in recent months.

"We were talking about waste in government, and I told him we don't need a lieutenant governor, and he strongly agreed with that," Mr. Hourihan said. "I think that was the only thing we agreed on -- and the fact that Louie Goldstein has been around since the Ark and the Dove."

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