Mickey's Mighty Miracle?

June 20, 1993

Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg likes to think of himself as a political miracle-worker. As a two-term lieutenant governor, he claims credit for pulling the right strings to revamp public higher education, for saving the Peabody Institute, for selling the legislature on the Camden Yards stadium and for winning unwinnable battles in the legislature for Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Now Mr. Steinberg wants to pull off a bigger miracle: He's selling himself as a political outsider -- though he's been a State House insider for a quarter-century. He wants to be known as the anti-Schaefer candidate running for governor -- even though he can't shake the fact he's Mr. Schaefer's former ticket-mate and constitutional heir.

That's a tough sell. He was at it again last week with a big $100-a-ticket fund-raiser. Mr. Steinberg, along with Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, are way ahead of the rest of the candidates in money-raising. Before it is over, leading contenders will ante up close to $3 million each.

Mr. Steinberg has lots of free time to coax contributions, and lots of time to seek voters. An angry Governor Schaefer stripped Mr. Steinberg of all responsibility. So he spends his days campaigning.

Still, it is hard to escape his Schaefer ties. He was an integral part of the administration in its golden years, when the governor enjoyed huge success. Mr. Steinberg takes the credit -- and then tells voters he walked away from the governor three years ago over raising taxes across the board.

That's an artful dodge, but Mr. Steinberg is the consummate political dodger and dealmaker. He knows how to operate inside the State House. His skills outside the State House, though, have never been tested. So far, his campaign has come under criticism for its aimlessness and ennui.

He'd better get his act together. Mayor Kurt Schmoke looks more and more like a heavyweight candidate. Mr. Glendening soon will hit the $1 million mark in fund-raising. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran is relentlessly promoting his gubernatorial ambitions. Dr. Neil Solomon is raising funds for a Ross Perot-style race. State Sen. Mary Boergers of Montgomery County says she is serious about a run for governor. And those are just the Democratic hopefuls: four Republicans -- Robert Neall, Helen Bentley, Ellen Sauerbrey and William Shepard -- are seriously testing the water, too.

The race is highly fluid at this stage. Marylanders probably won't focus on what kind of governor they want until late next summer. Yet the candidates have to gear up soon to compete in such a costly and complex campaign. So far, no one has sprinted to the front of the pack. That may encourage others to consider a race for governor, too.

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