ANNAPOLIS -- State Treasurer Lucille Maurer returns to work today, which will put a damper on the aspirations of some very prominent politicians.
Seven weeks ago, doctors removed a benign tumor that had been pressing on Mrs. Maurer's brain. Almost before she was off the operating room table, some of her Annapolis colleagues began -- figuratively at least -- to measure her office for a new set of drapes.
The State House rumor mill went into overdrive with speculation about the extent of her illness, about who would take her job, and, in turn, who would take that person's job, and so on down through the Annapolis food chain.
But the 69-year-old state treasurer had other ideas, and early retirement wasn't among them. For two weeks, she has been gradually easing herself back into a modest work schedule and today, a bit ahead of schedule, she is expected to reclaim her seat on the powerful three-member Board of Public Works.
"Actually, I feel better than before I went in," the universally popular treasurer says. She says she intends to finish the final two years of her present term and might serve beyond that.
Although hospitalized and then sent to her Montgomery County home to recuperate, Mrs. Maurer said, she was fully aware of the chatter about her future. In the political world, she said, "that is to be expected." She said the political scramble demonstrated how little others knew about her medical problem.
"It shows how easily people judge your mortality when they don't know. It's a projection of their desires, not a reflection of the facts. The rumors started when I went in."
The growth on the top left side of Mrs. Maurer's head was between the skull and outer membrane surrounding the brain. The pressure caused dizziness and a loss of sensation in her right foot, which is now in a brace and is undergoing therapy.
The most often repeated rumor held that Mrs. Maurer would resign her post and be replaced by the speaker of the House, Kent County Democrat R. Clayton Mitchell Jr.
Mr. Mitchell, 56, has expressed interest in becoming treasurer once he decides to leave the legislature. The General Assembly elects the treasurer, and a candidate favored by members of the larger House of Delegates has an automatic advantage.
Mrs. Maurer said Mr. Mitchell called after her surgery to assure her he was not responsible for the rumors and wasn't plotting to replace her. Mr. Mitchell said he told her that he was pleased to hear of her rapid recovery, and to take as long as necessary before returning to work.
But talk of Mr. Mitchell's possible move to the treasurer's post prompted speculation about who would replace him as speaker.
Emerging as the early leaders were Appropriations Committee Chairman Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's, and Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, who chairs the Economic Matters Committee,
A second tier of candidates, including Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole of Washington County and Judiciary Chairman John S. Arnick of Baltimore County, also appeared.
These rumors fueled continued speculation that Mr. Mitchell would dump Mr. Arnick and several other less prominent House leaders as punishment for voting against a tax package. Mr. Mitchell also was said to be considering replacing Mr. Ryan as chairman of Appropriations.
Mr. Mitchell downplayed all these rumors, saying no leadership changes are imminent.
Mrs. Maurer, meanwhile, says she is ready to go back to work, and says her husband is eager, too. "He's glad," she says with a laugh. "When I'm home, it's 'Honey do this,' and 'Honey do that.' "
Besides, she adds, "I like it. I feel I'm doing a worthwhile job, and doing it well. And I wouldn't want to do anything that jeopardized my record of public service."