Schaefer drops Steinberg from drug commission Aides say the move reflects their split

August 28, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer has dumped Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg from his high-profile job as chairman of the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, in what aides to the governor described as fresh retribution for what Mr. Schaefer views as a pattern of disloyalty.

The decision appeared to be politically significant for both men.

Mr. Schaefer advertised anew his split with Mr. Steinberg, whose good relations with legislators often overcame their opposition to the governor's programs.

For Mr. Steinberg, the demotion may have made official what he has told associates recently: That he has virtually no power left as lieutenant governor and that he has little hope of winning Mr. Schaefer's support or that of his financial backers in his 1994 campaign for governor.

Administration officials acknowledged yesterday that the governor signed a new executive order Monday reorganizing and expanding the commission and widening its focus from traditional prevention and education programs to substance abuse issues that relate to crimes of violence, AIDS and underage drinking. The commission membership will be expanded from about 20 to about 30 and will include prosecutors and law enforcement officers.

Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services and vice chairman of the commission, was named interim chairman replacing Mr. Steinberg, Floyd O. Pond, executive director of the commission, confirmed.

Copies of the executive order and a roster of the commission's new membership were not available yesterday, and it was unclear whether Mr. Steinberg would remain a member.

Paul E. Schurick, Governor Schaefer's new staff chief, explained the move by saying, "It's time for a change. The governor wanted new leadership."

But various Schaefer administration officials, all of whom asked not to be identified, said the immediate reason Mr. Steinberg was stripped of the post he has held the past 12 months is that Mr. Schaefer is still angry with him for opposing passage of the governor's major tax initiative this past legislative session.

They also contend that Mr. Steinberg increasingly has failed to be a "team player," saying, for example, that he sometimes made policy statements or commitments on drug issues without first consulting the governor.

Mr. Steinberg said yesterday that he had hoped to keep the drug commission post, contending that he has done a good job developing the basis for a "drug strategy for the decade." He proudly displayed stacks of news clippings from around the state chock-full of praise from local officials for his efforts.

Aides said Mr. Schaefer was irked that Mr. Steinberg was taking advantage of the post to gain statewide name recognition in anticipation of his own expected campaign for governor in 1994. Removing him, therefore, presented an easy opportunity to exact a political penalty for past slights, real or perceived.

"As lieutenant governor, I respect the institution and the office, and therefore I accept the fact the governor has the right to make this decision," Mr. Steinberg said.

"But I would hope this is not a political issue, because substance abuse transcends partisan politics," he said. "It affects every citizen of the state."

A former Senate president with 20 years' legislative experience representing the Pikesville area before joining the Schaefer ticket in 1986, Mr. Steinberg was architect of many of the administration's landmark successes during its first three years. They include legislation authorizing a baseball and football stadium at Camden Yards, the light-rail line through Baltimore and reorganization of Maryland's higher education system.

But, as many predicted, the relationship between the two strong-willed politicians began to sour late in Mr. Schaefer's first term.

The lieutenant governor has been embroiled in a number of disputes with the governor, culminating in their differences over the tax recommendations of the gubernatorial study commission headed by Montgomery County lawyer R. Robert Linowes.

Neither Mr. Schaefer nor his aides have forgiven Mr. Steinberg for refusing in March to testify in favor of the Linowes Commission proposals. Instead, the lieutenant governor sided with legislators who wanted to postpone action until the General Assembly could study the tax issues this summer.

Mr. Steinberg's removal marks the second time in four months Mr. Schaefer has publicly punished him. In April, the governor fired Mr. Steinberg as chairman of a Medevac helicopter advisory committee and stripped his office of two staff members, ostensibly for budgetary reasons.

Several weeks later, during a short-lived reconciliation, the governor reinstated Mr. Steinberg to the helicopter committee post, a position of diminishing public exposure that he still holds.

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