Of Maryland is getting to be like being...


March 20, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

BEING GOVERNOR of Maryland is getting to be like being ridden out of town on a rail. "If it weren't for the honor of it," Abe Lincoln quoted one recipient, "I'd just as soon walk."

Spiro T. Agnew. He was elected in 1966. He was a Republican, and almost immediately upon taking office he was confronted with a Democratic legislative rebellion. He escaped to the vice presidency, but not for long. Graft Busters in the U.S. Attorney's office here pursued him, and he had to plea-bargain away his high office to escape prison.

He was succeeded by Marvin Mandel, who was elected in 1970 and 1974. The Graft Busters went after him, too, got him and sent him to prison for 19 months.

Harry Hughes. Hughes won in 1978, campaigning as the integrity candidate. He was re-elected, but then presided over the state's savings and loan scandal, for which he became loathed. He got 16 percent of the vote in the 1986 Senate Democratic primary.

Welcome to the club, William Donald Schaefer. As the miracle working can-do mayor of Baltimore, he was elected with 80 percent of the vote in 1986 and re-elected with 60 percent in 1990. But this month a Mason-Dixon poll found 62 percent of Marylanders give him an unfavorable rating.

One reason he is down in the polls is that he is seen by the public as a sort of over-age brat, with his temperamental phone calls and letters to average citizens who criticize him. Another reason is that he is seen as a loser. On some high-visibility, important public issues, he has been defeated by the legislature. Assault weapons controls, fairer taxes, aid to urban education and conservation-conscious limits on suburban development are all Schaefer pets that have been defeated.

Baltimore might as well get used to governors who want to do something for it being treated this way. That's if there ever is another one who wants to. Don Schaefer is probably the last liberal governor. You won't see one again bucking suburban developers, suburban taxpayers and their elected representatives.

Suburbs today float free -- economically, historically and politically -- from the cities of their metropolitan areas. This is especially true in a county like Montgomery, where the adjacent city isn't even in this state.

I mention Montgomery because it has become Maryland's largest political entity. In this General Assembly, Baltimore has 9 senators and 27 delegates, Montgomery 7 and 19. In the next the city may be down to 7 and 21, Montgomery up to 8 and 24.

When I contemplate that symbolic crossing of population trend lines, I think of New Jersey. Not only has New Jersey been suburbs-dominated for a long time, but the centers of both of its metropolitan areas (New York and Philadelphia) are outside the state.

Looking ahead in Maryland, I think of something a visitor wrote about New Jersey a quarter of a century ago. "I have seen the future, and it doesn't work."

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