'Dear Annoyed In Annapolis . . .'

March 20, 1991|By Jean Marbella

"Dear Abby," the letter to the advice columnist might begin. "I'm a 69-year-old chief executive who was once beloved by my people. But after all I've done for them -- ever hear of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore? -- they've turned on me. They write nasty letters to me or the newspapers, and then they bellyache when I write, call or drop by to respond.

"Oh, I can be a little grouchy, especially when they pick on my lady friend and how she prettied up my house. And I might have called some people names -- how could I resist calling letter writer David Nottingham "David Nottingbrain?!" -- and frightened that woman when I had a state trooper ring her up at 10:30 one night. Of course, I probably didn't make any friends when I called the Eastern Shore a 's---house.'

"But what's the matter with these people -- can't anyone take a joke? Is this any reason for a 60 percent disapproval rating? Why doesn't anyone love me anymore?"

"Signed,

"Annoyed in Annapolis."

Now, Gov. William Donald Schaefer may never write a letter like this. But we thought he could use a little advice these days, what with constituents, legislators and reporters all jumping on his every move.

So we asked some expert advice-givers -- from psychologists and M.D.s and Ph.D.s to barbers and bartenders -- to give the Guv some free wisdom.

Joyce Brothers

Psychologist and media personality Joyce Brothers has just one word of advice for how the governor can change his ways: Don't!

"I think it's just splendid that he reads the letters from the public and cares about them and takes the time to respond. He's supposed to care what his constituents think," she said.

"Most companies and many politicians have form letters that everyone gets, these all-purpose letters that they send out automatically," she said. "There's a famous story, perhaps apocryphal, about a woman who wrote the president of a food company about finding a bug in one of their products and she got back a letter that said 'Send this woman the bug letter.'

"So I think what he's doing is just wonderful. And I would tell him, if he doesn't like what I've said here, he can show up at my house and I'll make dinner for him. And I'm a good cook."

Bartender Larry Armstrong

The view from the bar at McCarvey's Saloon on the Annapolis city dock isn't too good, says bartender Larry Armstrong, recently named to Bartender magazine's Bartender Hall of Fame. Everyone's been talking about what's wrong with the governor lately, said the English teacher turned bartender, but he can still turn things around.

"It's never too late to change your colors. He can be an extremely charming man. He should put that charm to work for him instead of alienating everyone -- he's even alienated the lieutenant governor," said Mr. Armstrong, who added that he voted for Mr. Schaefer and thought he'd been doing a great job until recently. "When he says things like he doesn't get anything done unless the legislators are out of town, it doesn't really advance the cause. He's just causing a lot of tension around here.

"I'd tell him to stay home and be quiet and take care of business. He should have some sort of assistant who would respond for him in a more polite way," he said. "I think he spent too many years in that aura of adulation in Baltimore and thought he would get that same treatment statewide, and it's just not going to happen."

Mr. Schaefer needs to lighten up a bit, Mr. Armstrong added. "Remember President Kennedy? He had a marvelous capacity for taking criticism and turning it around in a humorous way," he said.

Psychologist Carol Tavris

Carol Tavris, a social psychologist and author of "Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion," has what she calls "some good, old-fashioned, motherly advice" for the governor when he gets peeved.

"Count to 10. Sometimes you need to count to 100," said the Los Angeles-based Ms. Tavris. "You may even need to sleep it off.

"What you do in the heat of anger is not necessarily the best thing -- and this is true for children and politicians and everyone in between," she added.

Constituents sometimes write "angry, hostile, abusive, 'you jerk' letters" to politicians because "they are not expecting to hear anything back," she said. "Your governor's impulse to have a human reaction to these letters is very rare in the modern world. Most people get gobbledygook back.

"But if he is simply getting angry back . . . well, somebody has to be civilized. Somebody has to be the grown-up," she added.

Governor Schaefer should continue writing letters, but perhaps reconsider mailing them, she said.

"Writing it down is good," she said. "But sleep on it, and if you feel the same way the next day, then mail it."

Barber Willie Harry

"I would tell him to cool it," said Willie Harry of Baltimore, whose 27 years as a barber perhaps qualifies him to give unsolicited advice.

He thinks the governor should realize that what works as the mayor of Baltimore doesn't necessarily work as the governor of Maryland.

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