Cold shoulder to Clinton

Frank A. DeFilippo

October 01, 1992|By Frank A. DeFilippo

WHEN Gov. Bill Clinton was campaigning in Maryland early last month, the Democratic presidential nominee placed two phone calls to Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The calls were never accepted or returned.

When Mr. Schaefer sponsored a fundraiser for the Maryland Democratic Party's coordinated campaign last week, he addressed the importance of electing a strong congressional TC delegation he can work with, but he never mentioned Mr. Clinton or Al Gore.

And at a recent news conference, Mr. Schaefer declined to express a preference for president except to say that H. Ross Perot ought to go fly a kite (or whatever Texas billionaires do).

The phone calls to Mr. Schaefer were instigated by Mr. Clinton's Maryland campaign coordinators, who believe it's important for the two governors to patch it up. Exactly the opposite occurred during the spring primary season: The Clinton campaign brushed aside Mr. Schaefer's blandishments.

The fundraiser was pure Schaeferiana -- a $500-a-plate breakfast under a leftover wedding tent at the Guilford home of his campaign manager, Jim Smith, ironically a block down Lambeth Road from the sprawling house of Larry Gibson, Mayor Kurt Schmoke's political string-puller and Mr. Clinton's Maryland campaign director. The breakfast was a roundup of 150 of the usual suspects -- pols, developers, cabinet secretaries and (oddly) the former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.

By contrast to Mr. Schaefer, Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Bill Bradley, D-N.Y., not only endorsed the Clinton-Gore ticket but spoke strongly of the need to elect Democratic soulmates.

Since this was the "Maryland Campaign '92 Breakfast," and Mr. Schaefer was the special guest, the governor had to be aware that in the coordinated campaign some of the $75,000 that he helped raise would be used to benefit Mr. Clinton's campaign as well as the campaigns of state Democrats.

Yet Mr. Schaefer has been strangely silent about Mr. Clinton, who is regarded as the first Democrat since 1976 to have a better-than-even shot at capturing the White House.

Mr. Schaefer's cold shoulder devolves from the primary season, when he apparently was prepared to support Mr. Clinton. But the offer was declined because of Mr. Schaefer's own problems in Maryland and the outcry over tax increases in the Free State. Mr. Schaefer endorsed Paul Tsongas instead.

Then, too, there's the toothsome item that Mr. Clinton was chosen by his peers as America's best governor, an honor Mr. Schaefer might have coveted himself.

There are those around Mr. Schaefer who say that despite the wall of silence, the governor's on board the Clinton campaign bandwagon, that he'll do things, as usual, his own way and that he doesn't want to rile President Bush as long as the latter is in the White House and there's still a chance for federal boodle.

Lest anyone forget, Democrat Schaefer refused to speak out against Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal, he joined Ronald Reagan during campaign appearances here and he's a regular sidekick of Mr. Bush during the president's frequent excursions into Maryland.

Moreover, a victory for Mr. Clinton would heighten the prospect of Mr. Schmoke's vacating City Hall for a high-level appointment in Washington, thus clearing the way for Mr. Schaefer to attempt a reprise as mayor.

The downside of the Schaefer-Clinton standoff is that pork is power, and Maryland might be bypassed in favor of states with more hospitable governors.

And that's precisely why Mr. Schaefer's protecting his flank by promoting the idea of a strong congressional delegation. With Sens. Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski in key positions in the Senate, and with Reps. Ben Cardin, Steny H. Hoyer and Kweisi Mfume all ranking members of the House, Mr. Schaefer believes he'll have all the leverage he needs to deal with a Clinton White House.

But there's another immutable rule of politics: A certain point is reached in every campaign where nothing can be done to alter its outcome. Perhaps we've reached that point, and if so, Bill Clinton's going to be the next president. So it would behoove Mr. Schaefer to get over his snit, pick up the phone and reach out and touch someone. It's the right thing to do for Maryland.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes a column on Maryland politics.

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