Governor, mayor could end up trading jobs

MICHAEL OLESKER

September 09, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In my hands are the thoughts of William Donald Schaefer, when he was still in a pretty good mood. The thoughts are strung together across 29 pages of typed transcript, from a tape-recorded interview we did a long time ago when Kurt Schmoke was becoming mayor of Baltimore and Schaefer sat in Annapolis and pretended it wasn't happening.

The governor did not wish to discuss the new mayor. I did. The governor wished me to mind my own business. I implied something self-serving about the people's right to know, and stumbled into a question.

What lessons will you pass on to Schmoke about being mayor, I asked.

"I never tell a mayor how to do anything," Schaefer said. "The mayor has to do his own."

"What advice?" I said, changing the phrasing a little.

"I never advise mayors," said Schaefer, doing his own verbal dance.

"But you're the father figure."

"Do you . . ."

The governor's eyes blazed, the way they do when the lava begins to boil in his brain. The line of conversation infuriated him. He'd made it clear once, twice, three times already that he did not wish to talk about this Schmoke fellow, this interloper, this man he considered a pretender to the vacated Schaefer throne at City Hall.

So naturally, I asked him again and, naturally, the governor was not pleased.

"You keep pressing on this, on Kurt Schmoke, Kurt Schmoke," the governor declared. "There's no, there's no question we didn't have a good relationship, he wasn't part of my administration at all, and that's as far as I'm going to go."

And that, for the last six years, is about as far as he has gone, until Tuesday afternoon when the governor of Maryland and the mayor of Baltimore suddenly sat down privately with each other for a few hours and then emerged for a public walk-through of the Market Place area near the Inner Harbor and pronounced a "new partnership."

All bad blood is forgotten, the two men indicated. What's important, they said, is a grand spirit of cooperation to get this city's economic and crime problems straightened out.

This was considered beautiful language to all those under the age of 12, and a political charade to everyone else. Is cooperation important? Of course it is; it's what everybody's been screaming since these two men first showed disdain for each other.

But now, seven years into Schaefer's unhappy run as governor, six years into Schmoke's trying time as mayor, each man faces a political future which arrives soon and could be helped by mending fences as quickly and as ostentatiously as possible.

For Schmoke, the public display of unity came on the same day he got some bad news: Attorney General Joseph Curran announced he won't run for governor next year. This is bad news mainly if you believe, as all arithmetic indicates, that a certain percentage of the electorate votes strictly according to the color of their skin, no matter what.

Thus, in a gubernatorial election next year, with three candidates from the Baltimore area -- Schmoke, Curran, and Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg -- Curran and Steinberg might be expected to divide a percentage of whites voting strictly by color.

With Curran now gone, those votes figure to go heavily to Steinberg, a fact that will infuriate Schaefer. Once, the governor loved Steinberg, but no longer. Now he sneers at him the way he once sneered at Schmoke.

So embracing Schmoke does a couple of things for Schaefer: It's another public sign to all those still devoted to the governor that they should reject Steinberg; and it says to those same Schaefer devotees, This man Schmoke is OK in my book.

Why should Schaefer care? Only because, deep in his heart, what he really wants to do with his post-gubernatorial life is be the mayor of Baltimore again. And, if Kurt Schmoke is still mayor, it's unlikely Schaefer would make another run. But, if Schmoke's in Annapolis, the race becomes Schaefer against Mary Pat Clarke and anybody else whose name isn't Schmoke.

Of course, all the key characters are denying this. They say: Politics? What politics? They say they're thinking of the good of the city and nothing else, a statement ringing beautifully to all those approaching puberty.

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