After a decade, Schaefer, Schmoke find time to talk Lunches, meetings mark new alliance

October 12, 1991|By Sandy Banisky

Maryland's longest-running and highest-level political estrangement may be over.

Smiling, chatting and looking for all the world like two old buddies, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke lunched together yesterday -- an event that would seem unremarkable but for the fact they've barely spoken over the last decade.

The catalyst for detente? Apparently, Maryland's acute budget troubles, which have sent both men in search of allies to help make it through the bad times.

"This whole budget crisis has got us all talking about new ways of doing business," Mr. Schmoke said.

But there's also Mr. Schaefer's devotion to Baltimore, his empathy for other mayors and a new desire to build coalitions as he tries to make his way through the recession, observers say.

"The top executive of the city and the top executive of the state should not be at odds," Mr. Schaefer said.

Not only are the two men talking, they're talking often. Yesterday's meeting -- at the Center Club, the social heart of Baltimore's business world -- was the third this week for Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke.

Tuesday, they huddled privately at a CSX reception held at the B & O Railroad Museum. Wednesday, Mr. Schmoke consulted with Mr. Schaefer at the State House about a new budget plan. Yesterday, it was lunch -- a meeting that could have been kept secret but instead was held amid the Center Club's noontime hubbub, where executives from the city's biggest companies would be sure to note the event.

And as the two men parted, with the gubernatorial and mayoral limousines pulling up to drive them off, Mr. Schaefer went out of his way to walk over to the mayor, thump him fraternally on the shoulder and say, "We'll get together again."

"That's the important thing," Mr. Schmoke said.

"Soon," Mr. Schaefer said, as he climbed into his car.

The exchange was so friendly, so natural that it was hard to believe that it followed 10 years of unpleasantness.

From 1982, when Mr. Schmoke was elected Baltimore's state's attorney, Mr. Schaefer, then mayor, made clear he had no use for the political newcomer. While pundits hailed Mr. Schmoke as a future mayoral candidate, Mr. Schaefer bristled. He saw Mr. Schmoke as a competitor and resented any suggestion that the younger, Ivy League-educated politician might one day sit in the mayor's office.

Even Mr. Schaefer's biggest supporters conceded they could not explain the depth of the governor's dislike for Mr. Schmoke.

Mr. Schaefer criticized Mr. Schmoke's record as prosecutor. He revoked Mr. Schmoke's invitation to Cabinet meetings. He supported Mr. Schmoke's opponent, Clarence H. "Du" Burns, in the 1987 mayoral race.

Mr. Schmoke, meanwhile, shrugged and said he didn't know what the problem was.

After Mr. Schaefer became governor in 1987, allies of both men tried repeatedly to arrange meetings to heal the rift. The sessions were never held. But while the governor sniped publicly at the mayor, he carefully directed staff members to work with the city government. Mr. Schmoke repeatedly acknowledged the state's help on a variety of issues.

Last spring, Mr. Schaefer eased his public criticism of the mayor. Instead, his comments became downright sympathetic. He told business executives that the mayor had a very tough job, that no one could understand how difficult being mayor is.

And over the last few weeks, Mr. Schmoke said, he and the governor have begun talking.

Yesterday, Mr. Schaefer described the lunch discussion as "very interesting. The city has real serious problems, real serious. We've got to find a way to help them."

Help the city? When the state is cutting aid to localities?

"There are things we can work on," Mr. Schmoke said. "There's legislation we can work on," such as tax reform -- which Mr. Schaefer supports and wants to find more backers for.

Joining the mayor and governor for lunch were Lynnette Young, Mr. Schmoke's chief aide; Mark Wasserman, state secretary of Economic and Employment Development; Lainy LeBow, the governor's public relations chief; and Walter Sondheim, a longtime adviser to both men.

Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke sat next to each other and discussed state budgets, city programs and Baltimore neighborhoods in a 90-minute conversation.

"I think there is a genuine relationship that augurs well for the future," Mr. Sondheim said.

But how did this genuine relationship spring into being so quickly after so many years of coolness?

Mr. Schmoke grinned. "I can't analyze it," he said. "I can only give you the facts, ma'am."

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