Gov. Schmoke's Difficulties: A 1997 Columnm

BARRY RASCOVAR

April 04, 1993|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Let's look ahead -- four years ahead. What will the Maryland political scene look like the Sunday after April Fool's Day in 1997? Here is one possible April Fool's scenario, as described in my column for that day's edition:

* What a tumultuous time this has been in political Maryland. Since taking office three years ago, Gov. Kurt L. Schmoke has fought constantly with the General Assembly. He just can't get any respect.

House Speaker Timothy Maloney of Prince George's County and Senate President Laurence Levitan of Montgomery County have eviscerated the governor's programs and substituted their own, with a decidedly pro-Washington suburban tilt.

The loser has been Baltimore City, which has the added burden of trying to survive a long feud between Governor Schmoke and the man who was elected mayor in 1995, William Donald Schaefer. Despite Mr. Schaefer's pleas to leaders in Annapolis, little of the state's largess has been turned over to the mayor to dispense. To make matters worse, Mayor Schaefer and Governor Schmoke aren't on speaking terms.

But then, Mr. Schaefer didn't speak to Mr. Schmoke when their roles were reversed. And the present mayor hasn't spoken a word to Baltimore's City Council President, either. That's by mutual agreement. Mary Pat Clarke is still steaming at Mr. Schaefer's entry into the mayor's race that forced her to drop her own mayoral ambitions, even though she served a year as acting mayor after Mr. Schmoke's 1994 inauguration as governor.

Governor Schmoke's popularity, meanwhile, is sinking. His name anathema in Western Maryland, thanks to his building a needle waste-disposal plant in Cumberland as part of his statewide needle-exchange program for addicts. The ever-growing pile of discarded needles was so massive that daring youngsters used it as a ski slope during the recent Blizzard of '97.

Nor has Governor Schmoke won any popularity on the Eastern Shore, where his decision to bar territorial rating on auto insurance sent rural premiums into the stratosphere. This was supposed to lower costs for city drivers, but it didn't because of the avalanche of lawsuits filed by fee-hungry urban plaintiff lawyers. That's why Council President Clarke once again is railing against the insurance industry, this time calling for a state-run insurance company to cover all Maryland drivers.

A further blow to Governor Schmoke occurred when his own lieutenant governor, Mary Boergers of Montgomery County, quit in a huff over his $4 billion school-aid plan for Baltimore City. (The plan was ignored by legislators.) Ever since, the Boergers for Governor campaign has been gathering momentum in the Washington suburbs.

Without a lieutenant governor, Mr. Schmoke has turned to his key adviser, Chief Judge Larry Gibson of the Maryland Court of Appeals. One of the governor's few allies seems to be the cantankerous Comptroller-for-Life, Louis L. Goldstein, but he spends his time preparing for his 11th coronation next year.

Schmoke aides still can't get over their thumping 1994 victory. Mr. Schmoke overcame a frenetic effort in the primary by former drug, AIDS and health czar Dr. Neil Solomon, who mounted a surprisingly strong effort. Dr. Solomon promised government by telephone call-in, where citizens get a chance every day to tell the governor how to run Annapolis. His selection of Sen. Idamae Garrott of Montgomery County as a running mate was brilliant, sewing up the large geriatric vote.

But it wasn't enough. Mr. Schmoke scared off all the other Democrats and whipped Dr. Solomon. In the general election, he won again, beating the team of Helen Bentley and Robin Ficker.

What did in Mrs. Bentley was her pledge to set up a Department of Serbian Affairs, her constant feuding with the press and her four-letter description of the Eastern Shore. She also was hounded by questions about the sources of her $8 million campaign war chest.

(Mrs. Bentley is now a registered lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Antique Dealers, known as MAAD; Mr. Ficker is back again in Montgomery County being obnoxious; Dr. Solomon hosts a national radio talk show, and Ms. Garrott is planning a run for the Senate on the Gray Panther ballot.)

What will Governor Schmoke do next? Another term in deadlocked Annapolis is a depressing prospect. Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, has a lock on her re-election bid next year, while Sen. Paul Sarbanes has let it be known he will seek yet another term in the year 2000. No one would be so foolish as to challenge the wildly popular Mayor Schaefer in Baltimore.

Governor Schmoke's only hope is a Supreme Court appointment, which may not be far-fetched: Pundits at the Washington Post were touting that possibility as far back as April Fool's Day, 1993!

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director for The Sun. His column on Maryland politics appears here each week.

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