Air Force One, petulance and Schaefer

MICHAEL OLESKER

November 01, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Is he beautiful? Does he stay up nights dreaming up these things? Did William Donald Schaefer say to himself, ''OK, there's still three people in the state of Maryland who don't hate me. Now what can I do to tick them off?''

Schaefer, the man who has turned the temper tantrum into an art form, comes out of the political closet to back George Bush's re-election bid, and immediately does these things:

A) Delivers the Maryland Eastern Shore vote -- to Bill Clinton.

B) Lines himself up for a Cabinet post with Bush -- as Secretary of Petulance.

C) Says to Kurt Schmoke, ''You're not the only one with important friends, sonny.''

Is he remarkable? For 12 years, this governor of ours travels to Washington to beg like some supplicant to a sultan for help for his wounded city and his gasping state, and the Reagans and the Bushes pat him on the head and politely tell him to get lost.

What's Schaefer's response? He flies aboard the presidential jet to St. Louis on Friday, embraces the president, and announces he wants him re-elected.

This, after privately telling friends he doesn't think Bush has done much to help the state of Maryland. This, after 12 years of Republicans cutting the very urban aid programs Schaefer used to create his Baltimore renaissance.

This, after telling a reporter here last May:

''The press is always beating on the president and beating on the other man -- who I hope doesn't win.''

''You don't like Clinton?'' Schaefer was asked.

''Clinton's good in education -- and that's all,'' said Schaefer.

''So you'll support Bush?''

''I'm a Democrat,'' declared Schaefer.

Oh, yeah?

If William Donald Schaefer ever runs for office around here again, he'll have to run under an assumed name -- or, at least, under an assumed party. It's amazing, the lengths this man will go to just for a ride on Air Force One.

This endorsement of Bush isn't about party politics, or which candidate will do more for Schaefer's state or his occasionally beloved city of Baltimore. It's about personality. It's about George Bush inviting Schaefer and his friend Hilda Mae Snoops up to Camp David for a little shmoozing, and it's about Bill and Hillary Clinton's friendship with Kurt Schmoke, and it's about Clinton's people snubbing the governor.

Go back to last winter. It's Hopkins Plaza on the lunchtime Paul Tsongas showed up for his Maryland presidential primary pitch. Minutes before Tsongas appears, Schaefer slips quietly to the back of the crowd. Some Tsongas people spot him and ask him if he'd like to join their man on the platform.

''No,'' Schaefer says, glancing modestly at the ground, ''I don't want to detract from your man. It's his day.''

The governor was being coy. What he meant was: He didn't want to be booed in front of a man running for president. The polls all said Schaefer was loathed across the state, reeling from weird behavior and bad spending habits, blamed for the state's growing financial troubles and his own temperament.

Obviously, the Tsongas people knew nothing of this -- but Clinton's people did. When they came here a few days later, they pointedly avoided any contact with Schaefer. They'd done their homework. Bush's people haven't -- either that, or they assume the rest of the country doesn't know Schaefer.

Not only did Clinton's people know the governor's problems, but they'd also built close ties with Mayor Schmoke, Schaefer's blood rival. Anyone who thinks Schaefer wouldn't bolt parties on such trivia hasn't been watching the governor snub Schmoke the last five years.

Where does this leave the state of Maryland after next Tuesday? Well, if Bush wins, it means Schaefer's got a friend in the White House who can give him the same favors he's given him the last four years -- in other words, nothing so you'd notice.

And if Clinton wins? Well, Schaefer's unnecessarily alienated a man who claims to be concerned about bringing the cities back. And imagine this scenario: Schaefer goes to Washington in search of federal housing money. The new housing secretary tells him to go away.

The housing secretary's name is: Kurt L. Schmoke.

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