Assembly has the gold -- it makes the rule

Frank A. DeFilippo

April 01, 1993|By Frank A. DeFilippo

THE General Assembly lives by the golden rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. A case in point is the Baltimore school system, and the legislature appears to have the upper hand (as well as the gold).

The swag on the table involves $4.8 million to superimpose the so-called CRESAP management plan on the besieged and battered city school system. The players involve a cast of Big Cheeses in both city and state politics. And the narrative line has more loose ends than a plate of linguine.

To begin at the beginning, the city's ranking muck-a-muck in the House of Delegates, Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard "Pete" Rawlings, and Mayor Kurt Schmoke are snarling at each other over education policy.

Normally a Schmoke ally on matters affecting the city and the black agenda, Mr. Rawlings is playing a high-stakes game of send-'em-a-message politics. He wants to withhold the $4.8 million until the city implements all of CRESAP's recommendations. The mayor and Superintendent Walter Amprey are accusing Mr. Rawlings of long-distance micromanagement of the school system.

To be sure, there's genuine frustration on Mr. Rawlings' part over Mr. Schmoke's determination to accomplish anything, let alone rearranging the school system's management superstructure. And Mr. Rawlings, an educator whose ego is on display, insists he knows as well as anyone what needs to be done to improve city schools.

Interestingly, both the House and the Senate agree that the issue of school management must be addressed. However, the Senate version is less forceful because it does not withhold the $4.8 million as a condition for action.

Enter the scuffle one of Mr. Rawlings' second bananas, Del. Timothy Maloney of Prince George's County, the appropriations subcommittee chairman. Mr. Maloney's cheering Mr. Rawlings on, not only because he's still smarting over his county's loss of Social Security payments for teachers and librarians. Mr. Maloney's also angry at City Council President Mary Pat Clarke for an insulting remark she made about him earlier this year.

At the time of the slight, Mr. Maloney snapped, "Mary Pat just cost the city $5 million."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, for his part, is displaying his usual contempt for Mr. Schmoke, even sterner stuff since Mr. Schmoke's announcement that he might run for governor. The governor is egging Mr. Rawlings on in his effort to undermine Mr. Schmoke, even to the point of lining up with xenophobic Montgomery County in a dual effort to punish Mayor Schmoke and the city.

And Montgomery County, demonstrating its usual inability to play hard-ball with the big guys in Annapolis, is enjoying a rare moment of joyous hand-clapping. MoCo's lawmakers are watching the city being undermined by two of its own political panjandrums without having to get their white gloves soiled.

At this demarcation point, the plot not only thickens; it gets as layered as an artichoke.

If Mr. Rawlings has a political agenda, say to become speaker of the House some day, is he putting his neck on the chopping block because the House is his power base?

And suppose, just suppose, Mr. Schmoke becomes governor. Will his memory be so long and vindictive that he'll strip Mr. Rawlings of his epaulets as well as his committee chairmanship to lessen the black competition for attention in Annapolis. (Remember that in a four-way race Mr. Schmoke needs only 25 percent of the vote. And 23 percent of Maryland's population is black.)

And what if Mr. Schmoke goes to Annapolis and Ms. Clarke moves up the chain of command to mayor? After all, she's not very high on Mr. Schmoke's dance card because she's been stepping on his toes ever since they went to City Hall in 1987.

Will the irrepressible Mr. Maloney continue his nettlesome assault on Ms. Clarke by punishing the impecunious city because of some nitwit remark?

And how about Mr. Schaefer? He's fond of neither Mr. Schmoke nor Ms. Clarke, as political hobbyists know. And as long as Mayor Schmoke's running well ahead of Mr. Schaefer in the polls, the sour grapes will intensify the governor's chronic bellyaching and affect his attitude toward public policy.

With Mr. Schmoke's and Ms. Clarke's futures tied one to the other, Mr. Schaefer will continue to stir up enough ill will to keep city politics bubbling and the city very much dependent on his whim.

So remember, in the tight little universe of Annapolis a deal's a deal only until somebody reneges on his/her word. And the city's goal for this session is to obtain $150 million for improvements to the Convention Center. Nobody ever said anything about schools. So much for the golden rule.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes every other Thursday on Maryland politics.

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