Maryland's second banana

Frank A. DeFilippo

August 05, 1993|By Frank A. DeFilippo

NOBODY knows exactly what a lieutenant governor does, but Maryland law says every candidate running for governor has to have one.

So the matchmakers are out with their tout sheets trying to assemble dream tickets, when history shows that people vote for governor and not lieutenant governor. No second banana has ever made it to the top.

The whole mess started in 1968, another screw-up that can be blamed on Spiro T. Agnew. He went and got himself elected vice president of the whole shooting match, and there were no spare parts around to succeed him automatically as governor.

The task fell to the General Assembly, and its members chose one of their own, House Speaker Marvin Mandel. Mr. Mandel, feeling terrible that there was no heir-apparent available in case lightning struck twice, begat a statewide referendum to create the first lieutenant governorship in modern times. The voters approved -- Blair Lee 3rd was the first lieutenant governor -- and Maryland hasn't been the same since.

That's because Mr. Mandel and the General Assembly put a hook in the constitutinal amendment: The lieutenant governor has only the powers assigned to him (or her) by the governor, hardly a job description for master of the universe. But actually, it's really not a bad job and requires very little heavy lifting. The pay's $100,000 a year, and after butting heads with the boss a few times, the lt. gov. usually doesn't have to break a sweat.

But Blair Lee was a class act, a wealthy Montgomery County aristocrat named after the Blairs of Blair House and the Lees of Virginia in an administration of street-savvy ethnics from Baltimore. Mr. Mandel gave his lieutenant access and authority, especially over education and the budget. And whenever Mr. Mandel was out of state, he gave Lee the cherished letter designating him acting governor.

But on his own, and for a variety of other reasons remembered only by chroniclers of the era and newspaper librarians, Lee never got the job for which he spent years in waiting. He lost the 1978 primary election for governor by 20,000 votes.

The winner, the somnambulant Harry R. Hughes, brought to office with him the hapless Sam Bogley, who became the No. 2 guy simply because no one else was willing to gamble that Mr. Hughes might win.

But after four years of being under virtual house arrest for disagreeing with his boss over abortion, Mr. Bogley was ejected from office and dropped from the Hughes ticket. In his final act of defiance, Mr. Bogley ran to retain his job on the ticket of Baltimore Sen. Harry McGuirk. Mr. Bogley was succeeded in the slot by J. Joseph Curran Jr., then a state senator and now attorney general.

After four years in the State House, Mr. Curran opted to run for the state's top legal post, which was being vacated by Stephen H. Sachs in a suicide mission to defeat William Donald Schaefer.

Along with the victorious Governor Schaefer came Senate President Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg, who's now groping for the grail of the governorship. For the first four years of their romance, Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Steinberg got along like Bartles & Jaymes. Then came the big chill over fiscal policy, and Mr. Steinberg's been locked out of power ever since.

Comes now the hunt for the next candidate for cruel and unusual punishment, a person in whom -- according to political mythology -- must be vested the traits that allow compatibility with No. 1, satisfy geographical balance and reconcile gender bias in an age of political correctness. Not to mention, of course, some (limited) knowledge of government.

So far the tally sheet among Democrats reads like this: Prince FTC George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening approached Mayor Kurt Schmoke to be his running mate, but Mr. Schmoke read the polls and retorted that if he runs, he'd prefer to be topside. So why don't you be my No. 2, Parris?

Thus spurned, Mr. Glendening also had conversations about the luckless lieutenant governorship with City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and state school Superintendent Nancy Grasmick.

Montgomery County apparatchiks are searching for a ticket to which to staple their former county executive, Sid Kramer. They'd made an early pitch to Mr. Curran, who appears to be slowly withdrawing from the race for governor, and more recently they opened the lines of communication with Mr. Schmoke.

Mr. Steinberg reportedly has had some discussions with Senate Majority Leader Clarence Blount, a black from Baltimore, and so, too, has Mr. Glendening.

Among the presumptive candidates is Sen. Mary Boergers, D-Montgomery, who insists she's interested only in being governor. But most political rubberneckers dismiss her hard line as posturing to win a second spot on another candidate's ticket.

Another name being mentioned as a possible choice for lieutenant governor is that of Eileen M. Rehrmann, executive of ,, Harford County. And in some circles, the name of Baltimore Del. Elijah E. Cummings is bobbing around like the trial balloon that it is.

On the Republican side, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley has indicated that she'd like to pair up with Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall as her running mate. But Mr. Neall's no fool. He could probably win the whole enchilada on his own -- with a running mate, of course. And there is also the question of whether House Minority Leader Ellen Sauerbrey will take a step backward from her candidacy for governor to become a bridesmaid on another ticket.

Anyone who's interested in more than a consolation prize need not apply.

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

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