Schaefer gets Big Brotherish one more time

MICHAEL OLESKER

December 22, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

George Orwell, meet William Donald Schaefer.

Big Brother, meet The Petty Governor.

This is starting to get a little creepy.

The governor of Maryland is running about seven years late for Orwell's enduring vision of 1984, but his loopy Christmas card to an Eastern Shore woman last week should be captioned Yuletide Greetings from Someone Who Is Watching You.

''A misunderstanding,'' cries Schaefer, feigning the look of a choirboy caught with chocolate on his face. ''Somebody get my public relations people.''

''Much ado about nothing,'' echo his public relations people, wiping the chocolate from their own faces. ''Find something serious to write about.''

''Eerie,'' says Annette Lavelle, who ought to know.

Late last winter, Lavelle, a 34-year-old school bus driver from Stevensville, went to Annapolis to protest the governor's public characterization of the Eastern Shore as ''a (bleep)house.''

Protesters staged a comic demonstration, driving trucks carrying outhouses around the State House while the governor fumed and hissed like an overheated radiator.

Last week, nine months after the fact, Lavelle got an unexpected Christmas card from the governor, in which were enclosed two photographs of Lavelle taken at the anti-Schaefer rally.

''It was a Christmas greeting,'' the governor explained last week. ''Everybody thought it was funny except that lady.''

Uh, not quite everybody.

Is he really this naive, this oblivious to the intimidating power of the top man in government over ordinary folks, or is Schaefer some sort of serial pen pal offender?

Point of reference: the Anne Arundel County woman who gave Schaefer a thumbs-down sign from her car last winter. The governor had her license traced and sent her a note saying, ''[Your gesture] reminds me of an old expression I once heard: 'Your action only exceeds the ugliness of your face.' ''

Point of reference: A 63-year old man who wrote a critical letter to the Carroll County Times early this year. He got a Schaefer note, saying, ''Your letter sounds like a frustrated little boy. How old are you? I pay taxes on real estate federal and state! Most likely more than you!''

Point of reference: A man who complained to the Annapolis Capital of Schaefer's tax-and-spend tendencies, and then got a letter from the governor, saying, ''You are everything that speaks of stupidity.''

And now there is Annette Lavelle, who demonstrated peacefully and then found herself on film and identified and tracked down by people in the governor's office.

''It really freaked me out when I saw the pictures of me,'' Lavelle told The Evening Sun's Tom Waldron. ''It was an eerie feeling for him to be saying, 'I know who you are and I can find you if you cause trouble.' I don't know if that was the message he wanted to send, but that was the message I got.''

A misinterpretation, the governor cries, as the story of his latest pen pal effort spreads across the state -- although, to be accurate, there seems a slight difference in explanations from the governor and from his staff.

On Thursday, press aide Frank Traynor said, ''Apparently the governor, some time in the past, got a letter and pictures from a friend. The photos matched a newspaper photograph of that day,'' allegedly identifying Annette Lavelle.

On Friday, though, Schaefer said, ''I don't know who took the picture. I don't care who took the picture. I might have taken it myself, I don't know. Everybody thought it was nice except this one lady.''

We are told the photos were not taken by undercover officers -- unlike last February, when Maryland State Police took pictures of people protesting Schaefer's plan to ban the sale of certain assault weapons.

We are also told not to worry about sneaky surveillance $l techniques -- and never mind that hidden camera placed inside the birdhouse near the governor's expensive new Victorian fountain last spring.

At week's end, the governor was pronouncing himself innocent of any ill intent, declaring, ''They were good pictures. There was nothing wrong. . . . They were nice, clear, nice pictures.''

Maybe he really doesn't get it. He's the governor, and everybody else isn't. He has all the big-booted power of government and police behind him, and citizens who protest have only their voices. That's the way the system works.

And any time the governor responds to one of these voices with his own, he changes the system. It's no longer a fair fight so much as an act of bullying. It's his letter coming through the mail, but the unseen might of the entire system behind him.

But he can't seem to stop himself. Every time he sends out angry letters, and he's hit with a storm of indignation, the governor feigns innocence. He's putting together a very unflattering record here.

The governor says Annette Lavelle is making too much out of this. Big deal, he says, that he had pictures of her demonstrating against him. Big deal, so he found out her name and address. Big deal, so he showed her he had her in his sights. Big deal, so he represents the Orwellian power of the government.

The governor of Maryland is lucky the school bus driver from the Eastern Shore didn't call a cop.

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