Schaefer spared party's scolding

November 08, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Maryland Democrats let Gov. William Donald Schaefer off the hook yesterday, refusing to approve a resolution mildly rebuking him for endorsing Republican George Bush for president.

Since the governor endorsed Mr. Bush four days before Tuesday's election, angry party regulars circulated several resolutions critical of Mr. Schaefer. Yesterday, party leaders worked quietly against their passage, admonishing the rank and file to savor the victories of President-elect Bill Clinton, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and other Democrats, and to focus on the future rather than the past.

"Frankly, I resent the many hours spent, time and energy wasted talking about one disloyal Democrat,"said Baltimore City Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, who was unanimously elected at yesterday's Democratic Central Committee meeting to continue for a full two-year term as party chairwoman.

Former Congressman Michael D. Barnes, elected to continue as the party's vice chairman, talked only about how well the party and Democratic elected officials had done in Maryland, although he briefly noted there was "one very unfortunate and regrettable exception."

But other Democrats from around the state said Mr. Schaefer's transgression should not be allowed to pass unnoticed, calling it an insult to party volunteers who had worked long hours for the Democratic ticket. Several noted that under party by-laws, a Central Committee member who had done what Mr. Schaefer did would lose his party post.

"The governor did it -- that's what the embarrassment was," said Mary Jo Neville, a Central Committee member from Baltimore County.

"We have nothing to be embarrassed about."

Two resolutions were offered. The first, presented by James Hoage of Anne Arundel County, would have "formally censured" Mr. Schaefer and declared him "persona non grata in all Maryland Democratic organizations and activities." But the motion to approve the resolution was never seconded and therefore never discussed. Several party members later said they thought it was too strongly worded.

The other resolution, introduced by Montgomery County party Chairman Michael Gildea, contained 11 paragraphs, 10 of them praising the party's victories in the Clinton and Mikulski races, its success in registering 190,000 new Democrats in the state and commending the efforts of its volunteers and Democratic elected officials, "with one notable exception."

The remaining paragraph stated that the party was "dismayed by the actions of our governor, who by endorsing the national Republican ticket [had] in effect relinquished his honorary title as titular leader of our state party."

Mr. Gildea recalled being in his county's party headquarters when he and other campaign workers learned that Mr. Schaefer had traveled to St. Louis to endorse Mr. Bush.

"Our volunteers felt nothing less than betrayal," he said. "The governor, by his own actions, broke faith with the party, broke faith with the leadership, broke faith with the volunteers."

But even the mild statement contained in Mr. Gildea's resolution proved too strong for the majority to adopt.

"We all know what we feel," said Baltimore County party Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, who convinced his delegation to vote unanimously against the resolution, suggesting that it did the party no good to air its dirty laundry in public.

"You praise your children in public, and you scold them in private," he said.

Using a voting process weighted to reflect the populations of each jurisdiction and their registration and voting history, the measure failed, approximately 186 to 171.

Pamela J. Kelly, the governor's liaison to the state party, said after the vote: "Nothing really happened. They allowed the frustration that was out there to come forward, then they voted on it. The resolution was very mild, and it didn't even get approved."

"I think the governor thought Maryland was going to be fine. Everybody was for Clinton, and Clinton was going to win Maryland, and he knew that. When his friend called him and said, 'Help, I need your help,' he said, 'I'll do it.' "

"You don't kick a person out for one act like that when he has given so much over his lifetime," she added. "I think that's what you saw today."

Others, such as Susan Turnbull, vice chairman of Montgomery County's central committee, were unhappy with the vote.

Ms. Turnbull wore a circular campaign button with Mr. Schaefer's picture on it -- with a black slash mark drawn diagonally across his face. "We owe something to the thousands of volunteers who have expressed their displeasure," she said.

Ken Stevens, a Howard County Democrat wearing a "Dump Schaefer" sticker, said the resolution did not go far enough, and that he wished Marylanders had the right to institute recall petitions against public officials.

Ultimately, the resolution was defeated by Democrats who saw nothing to be gained by going after Mr. Schaefer.

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