Players emerge for 1994 gubernatorial race

January 03, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

While most people are thinking about 1993, a half dozen Maryland politicians are already looking ahead to 1994.

They are polling, plotting and planning ways to succeed William Donald Schaefer when the governor's final term expires.

At this early stage, the 1994 field is large. The Democrats include Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr. and Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening. The Republicans include former diplomat William S. Shepard, the GOP's 1990 standard-bearer, and Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R.

Neall.

Other Democrats said to be weighing their options include Baltimore Congressman Benjamin L. Cardin, Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (although Larry S. Gibson, Mr. Schmoke's political strategist, says the mayor has no interest in the job).

Among the Republicans, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden has raised enough campaign money to raise eyebrows, and Helen Delich Bentley apparently is assessing whether it is better to be a Republican congresswoman under a Democratic president or a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature.

Some of the gubernatorial wannabes are seizing any hot topic that might elevate their name recognition.

Mr. Steinberg, who has been put on ice for the past two years by Mr. Schaefer, tried to rise from the obscurity of his political no man's land by criticizing the governor's plan to raise money with keno gambling.

With one stroke, Mr. Steinberg distanced himself from his fellow Democrat and staked out a position on a high-profile issue -- one over which he has no control. Perhaps most importantly, he got his name back into the news.

Mr. Glendening recently appeared at a prayer breakfast to voice his concerns about keno and made sure the press knew how he felt.

Mr. Curran doesn't like keno either. As attorney general, he said, the keno contract was legal. But as a candidate, he said, expansion of gambling is "a serious policy mistake."

When Mr. Schaefer bolted the party's fold and endorsed Republican George Bush for president, Mr. Steinberg shot off a news release thrusting himself in the governor's place as "the highest-ranking Democratic elected official endorsing Bill Clinton in Maryland."

When the General Assembly moved to terminate a program that paid the Social Security costs for teachers and other local government employees, Mr. Glendening protested the action as an attack on that sacred cow, education.

It is all reminiscent of the headline-grabbing fights Mr. Schaefer and former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs waged in 1986 over competing locations for a new baseball stadium.

The next race for governor has the potential to shift the political power in Maryland from Baltimore to Washington, and to shift the job itself from the Democrats to the Republicans for the first time since Spiro T. Agnew was around.

It could also lead to the same sort of generational change of leadership represented by Mr. Clinton's defeat of President Bush.

"Essentially, I think it is wide open," Brad Coker, president of the Columbia-based polling firm, Mason Dixon Political Media Research Inc., says of the 1994 race. "I don't think any of the candidates has a significant name recognition over any of the others."

Melvin A. Steinberg

Mr. Steinberg should be the odds-on favorite. He was in the right place until both the economy and his relationship with Mr. Schaefer went south. He was the second-ranking Democrat in a heavily Democratic state in an administration that was succeeding in just about everything.

But when Mr. Steinberg balked at Mr. Schaefer's plan to raise taxes in 1991, the governor treated him like a traitor, withdrawing all his substantive duties.

His rivals say he should have quit long ago rather than drawing a $100,000-a-year salary while doing little more than promoting himself at public forums.

They say he will never shake his association with Mr. Schaefer, and that he cannot have it both ways, portraying himself both as consummate insider and aggrieved outsider.

Mr. Steinberg, however, is a talented politician, with lots of friends from his 20 years in the legislature and a relatively strong financial base. For now, he is in a balancing act, playing up his achievements in the first term while distancing himself from the administration's struggles in the second term.

J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Mr. Steinberg's principal rival for the Baltimore-area vote is likely to be Mr. Curran. Well-liked and probably best known of the candidates, he has won statewide office three times, as Gov. Harry Hughes' running mate and twice as attorney general.

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