Mayor again? Schaefer ally likes idea

THE POLITICAL GAME

April 07, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

The first campaign surrogate of Baltimore's 1995 mayoral election has been spotted.

Budget Secretary Charles L. Benton, peerless counter of beans and finder of money for government projects, was on the stump extolling the virtues of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"I have never been willing to accept the status quo," said Mr. Benton, 76, in a speech to the Baltimore Rotary Club last week, "and I suppose that may be the principal reason I have survived over a half-century of fiscal legerdemain."

He began with himself. But he spoke mostly about his boss.

Mr. Schaefer would love to prove you can come home again, back to City Hall, back to the future.

Oh sure, Mr. Benton was softening the ground for the postmortems that will come when his boss's constitutionally limited eight years as governor end next year.

But there was more.

"I was proud to be a part of Mayor Schaefer's team that transformed this city from a tourist-shy town to a tourist mecca," he said. "And, although the Shadow Government was much maligned and criticized, there is no doubt that it was the driving force behind the resurrection of this city."

Mr. Benton's reference to the Shadow Government hearkened back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when, as director of finance in the city, he produced a dizzying array of creative financing ideas to help Mr. Schaefer pay for projects that banks weren't interested in. His exploits were illuminated in a series of newspaper articles.

Mr. Benton was the heart, soul and green eyeshade of the Shadow. It was a showcase for that legerdemain he mentioned.

Some would argue about what really drove the Schaefer renaissance. Some would say the renaissance was hype -- since large stretches of city landscape were not renewed. But few would deny the energy, and spirit, and, yes, the legerdemain of those times.

Mr. Benton made the Rotarians happy with his reverie about William Donald Schaefer, mayor. He shocked them with figures on the costs of treating crack-addicted infants, of incarcerating kids and of dealing with the elderly and disabled.

These problems are being handled despite the recession, Mr. Benton said, and Mr. Schaefer continues to search for ways to deal with social ills before they become enormous financial problems.

4 Mr. Schaefer's standing is low in the polls now.

But historians will judge his years in Annapolis as among the best in Maryland's history, Mr. Benton said.

What about the Rotarians? Would they take him back in Baltimore?

"In a heartbeat," one of them said after lunch.

Mr. Schaefer's favorite name for Baltimore's baseball park is taking root.

He wanted to call it Camden Yards, period. Eli Jacobs, the club's owner, wanted to call it Oriole Park, period. So, when the park opened last year, they called it Oriole Park at Camden Yards, question mark.

Wasn't that a bit unwieldy? Didn't that remind you of the definition of a camel: a horse made by committee?

Some predicted one of these two handles would fall off from fatigue. And there it was on National Public Radio Monday morning before the first pitch by Bill "The Big Train" Clinton.

According to NPR's Bob Edwards, this would happen at, drum roll please: Camden Yards!

Pretty shrewd, governor!

And now, the Bentley watch

Associates of Republican Helen Delich Bentley say the 2nd District congresswoman will run for governor in 1994, but only:

* If she can be sure of tapping into the big money sources that sustained Mr. Schaefer. He and some of his supporters want Mrs. Bentley to run. They'd rather deal with her as governor than with anyone in the Democratic field.

* If Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke officially enters the Democratic primary. The thinking -- Mr. Schmoke will win the primary but cannot win the general election.

* If she is ultimately willing to take the risk, to give up the near certainty of re-election to her congressional seat.

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