Schaefer, Schmoke reconcile City needs seen as prime motive

September 12, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this article.

The governor of Maryland has been feuding with the mayor of Baltimore for so long no one can remember exactly how or why it started.

Some say it was because Kurt L. Schmoke supported the "wrong" candidate for governor in 1986, backing then-Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs instead of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who has a long memory.

Others say Governor Schaefer's frosty feelings toward Mayor Schmoke are rooted in much earlier, smaller and almost silly incidents in which Mr. Schaefer felt slighted. As the city's prosecutor, for example, Mr. Schmoke is said to have missed some of Mr. Schaefer's mayoral Cabinet meetings.

Another theory is that Mr. Schaefer has always been repelled by glamorous, smooth-talking politicians and, accordingly, resents the much younger Mr. Schmoke for his polished, Ivy League demeanor.

Perhaps the most believable explanation, however, is that Mr. Schmoke has the one job in the world that the 15-year Baltimore mayor truly loved, and in Mr. Schaefer's heart and mind, nobody can do that job as well as he did.

With that backdrop, it was unexpected, if not stunning, to see the two longtime adversaries lock into a conciliatory embrace this past week. First, they met privately to discuss joint solutions to the city's problems. Afterward, they took a very public walking tour downtown and announced that they had reached a tentative agreement to allow state police to help in the city.

As television crews and newspaper reporters trailed along, the two men donned matching purple baseball caps, said nice things about one another and acted, for all the world, as if there was nothing particularly unusual about them being together.

"This is not just a blip on the screen," Mayor Schmoke said. "This is a relationship that is going to last."

But the event raised the question: Why did it take them nearly seven years to get together, and what changed to make it happen now?

Many theories

Theories abound:

* Mr. Schmoke quietly and privately appealed to Mr. Schaefer for help for the city and somehow touched a sympathetic nerve with a governor who is painfully aware that his eight years in Annapolis are drawing to a close.

* Mr. Schaefer believes the city is going to hell in a handbasket, thinks Mr. Schmoke and particularly his staff and city police are inept and has concluded he has no choice but to come to their rescue.

* Mr. Schaefer secretly wants to prolong his public career by running for mayor again after he steps down, as required, after two terms as governor. Any assistance he can deliver to the city now not only would improve his lot once he moved back into City Hall, but also could help Mr. Schmoke in his expected bid for governor next year -- a move that would leave the mayoral job open to all comers in the 1995 city elections.

* Mr. Schaefer wants to help Mr. Schmoke run for governor because (a) Mr. Schmoke is the candidate most likely to protect the city's interests, and (b) in helping Mr. Schmoke, Mr. Schaefer would thus hurt two other Democrats seeking the nomination -- whom he likes even less. One is Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, whom Mr. Schaefer views as a traitor who defected as his administration was pushing a landmark tax increase in 1991. The other is Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, whose quick criticism of the governor's handling of budget matters was interpreted as blatant political grandstanding.

* Finally, the most convoluted and paranoid of political theorizing: That Mr. Schaefer, aware of his own low standings in public opinion polls, has embraced Mr. Schmoke to sabotage him -- a political kiss of death.

Previous meetings

One person who knows both men well calls such theories "far-fetched." Mayoral aides in City Hall and gubernatorial aides at the State House alike say the reality is much simpler and far less Machiavellian.

Tuesday's event was apparently inspired by at least two previous meetings between the two men, one on the final night of this year's General Assembly session in April and a second in June that was sought by the mayor to discuss state funding of education. That discussion shifted to an offer by the governor to provide state police assistance to the city, an idea Mr. Schaefer has been pushing for the past couple of years with little success.

One person familiar with the governor's view of that meeting said that Mr. Schaefer heard Mr. Schmoke's message as "a cry for help" for the city. Afterward, Schaefer aides say, the governor seemed more personally sympathetic to Mr. Schmoke and his problems.

Economic issue

According to Schaefer aides, the governor has been deeply worried about the soaring violent crime rate in Baltimore and -- typical of his dogged bent for economic development -- fears that the problem is scaring off tourists.

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