Presenting 'The Three Faces of Don'


March 31, 1991|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Welcome to "Maryland Mystery Theater." Today our special presentation is that long-running suspense thriller, "The Three Faces of Don."

This is the tale of a sincere and committed public official who gets so caught up in his life's work he cannot control his emotions -- or his mouth.

The results are unexpected, as the Good Don turns into the Bad Don, or even into the Crazy Don, at the most inopportune times.

The Good Don is a model public servant with enough empathy for human suffering to make Mother Theresa look heartless. He cares so deeply for the poor and downtrodden that he cannot sit by passively.

He is driven to make good deeds happen. He pushes his staff and his associates to achieve the unthinkable. He is everyman's friend, and every voter's favorite politician.

The Good Don will be remembered as the best mayor Baltimore ever had and as a remarkable governor, too.

Yet when the going gets tough, and the governor is pounded by what he views as the Forces of Evil, the Good Dan sometimes gives way to his darker side, the Bad Don.

Every year since he was elected governor in 1986, this transformation has occurred. It always seems to happen when the legislature is in town.

Senators and delegates don't understand the Good Don's intense desire to cure all of society's ills NOW. They don't understand why the Good Don wants to undertake enormous social changes, at vast taxpayer expense, so quickly, without adequate study or input from legislators. So lawmakers sometimes refuse to go along with the Good Don's wishes.

These public defeats can send him tumbling into a deep depression. He feels unloved. He feels unappreciated. He feels worthless. He lapses into an angry funk -- and out comes the Bad Don.

The Bad Don viciously curses foes of the moment. He bellows like a modern-day Lear over the betrayal by those he considered trusted friends. He plots revenge that could only end up hurting himself and his causes.

When this occurs, he is inconsolable. He says things he later regrets. He sees dark clouds on the horizon. His only joy: tending to his African violets.

His staff tries to relieve his depression by scheduling appearances away from Annapolis, where he can get in touch with common folks and forget his legislative nightmares. Or staffers take him duck hunting. Or he will sneak away for a weekend at his trailer in Ocean City.

Usually, this therapy achieves its goal, and the governor snaps out of his torpor in time. The Bad Don subsides and the Good Don reappears, grudgingly working with legislators. By sine die night, the General Assembly and the governor's staff have pieced together a package that makes everyone look like heroes.

That is how it worked up until 1991.

This year, the Bad Don surfaced much earlier in the legislative session. All his scheming and screaming irritated legislators, who killed most of his key bills. The Bad Don was beside himself with frustration. Never in all his years in public service had he been rebuffed so thoroughly.

He sulked. He fumed. He went ballistic.

He turned into the Crazy Don.

This volatile figure sent mean-spirited notes to critics and made nasty late-night phone calls to others who dared to oppose him in letters to local newspapers. He even showed up on a the doorstep of one man who had written a letter criticizing him.

The Crazy Don spewed horrid venom at every conceivable target, from the House speaker to the newspapers to his lieutenant governor. He was nearly out of control.

But then a fortuitous event occurred. The governor was invited to witness the emir of Kuwait's return to war-ravaged Kuwait City.

What an honor. He was the only governor on the VIP trip. And it couldn't have come at a better time. The Crazy Don disappeared. The Good Don -- the great leader and wise ruler -- flew off to the Persian Gulf, leaving all his troubles behind.

That trip put everything in perspective. When the governor returned, he realized how minuscule his problems were, given the horrors he saw in Kuwait. He learned about diplomacy over there, too.

A rejuvenated Good Don now has acted to resurrect some of his proposals before the legislature adjourns. He feels emboldened to try to mend his public image, too.

Still lurking in the shadows, though, is the Bad Don, publicly lashing out at his professed enemies in the legislature and plotting to make them look bad -- even as the Good Don is sitting down to talk with these same individuals about reaching compromises.

The Crazy Don, at least, has vanished from the scene. Perhaps the Bad Don will, too.

Let's hope so. We want "The Three Faces of Don" to have a happy ending.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editor of the editorial pages of The Sun. His column on Maryland politics appears here each Sunday.

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