Table stakes in the lobby gameThe two men sat down for...

THE POLITICAL GAME

December 09, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Table stakes in the lobby game

The two men sat down for breakfast at a table in the corner, near the massive stone fireplace in the Treaty of Paris restaurant at the Maryland Inn -- Bereano's table, the legislators and others in Annapolis call it.

This was no governmental forum, of course.

Two lobbyists were talking about a range of public policy issues, including the controversial expansion of legal gambling into keno, a form of electronic bingo.

As is often the case, Alan L. Rifkin and Bruce C. Bereano sat as opponents in a battle over millions of dollars in state business.

Mr. Bereano's clients had won many of the big ones in recent times, including the controversial $49 million keno deal and the original lottery computer contract.

Starting with Mr. Bereano's success in wresting the contract away from Mr. Rifkin and Control Data, the struggle over the lottery business has shown how the nature of lobbying in Maryland has changed and how it is vastly more than talks in corridors or testimony before committees.

Before the computer contract for the State Lottery Agency was awarded to GTECH in 1991, Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- confronted by Mr. Bereano, Mr. Rifkin and other lobbyists with a claim to his friendship -- appointed a panel in an effort to insulate the procurement decision from the chill winds of politics and lobbying.

Mr. Rifkin lost more than the computer battle.

Eventually he lost his client, Control Data, which is no longer in the lottery business. He has many other strong and wealthy clients. But the computer loss stings even today.

More recently, Mr. Bereano's lobbying partner, former Gov. Marvin Mandel, was named lobbyist and lawyer for Maryland's doctors, a $330,000-a-year job once handled by Mr. Rifkin's law partner, Gerard Evans.

Then came keno, another victory for Mr. Bereano.

So, over breakfast not long ago at Mr. Bereano's table, Mr. Rifkin was saying, maybe it's time to stop fighting on a personal level.

"We have issues in common, issues in opposition," Mr. Rifkin said. Despite their differences, they had "mutual concerns," he said.

l Mr. Bereano says he did not accept Mr. Rifkin's call for a truce, holding him responsible for efforts to have the lottery computer procurement process investigated by law enforcement officials.

The war, Mr. Bereano said, will almost certainly continue.

And on a new level.

The U.S. attorney is preparing to examine the lottery computer procurement and its aftermath, the $49 million, no-bid keno contract.

Both of these are likely to have the state of Maryland and at least two of its lobbyists meeting again and not over breakfast in a nice Annapolis restaurant.

The on-again, off-again battle between Governor Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is on again. This time they can't agree on how to proceed with a $150-million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center. Mr. Schmoke wants the governor to appoint the mayor's representative to the Baltimore Stadium Authority that now oversees the Convention Center. Mr. Schaefer refuses until the city agrees to put up its share of the expansion costs -- as much as $50 million.

With the city in obvious financial distress, the governor apparently feels he must have assurances that the city will meet its end of the deal. Mr. Schmoke says the law requires the governor to name a city representative to the authority. He wants that appointment first. Period.

The matter could be moot: Opponents of the city, unhappy about what they regard as a betrayal in another financial matter, have declared the expansion project "dead" whether or not the mayor and the governor work out this installment in their perpetual differences.

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