WHILE most rubberneckers were fixated on Mayor Kurt Schmoke's departure from the governor's race, a number of ZTC equally important events were occurring backstage.
What appeared until Mr. Schmoke's turn-about to be a tumultuous campaign year has, lickety-split, settled down to a fairly mannerly event. Both Democrats and Republicans will have contested elections for governor but not the divisive campaigns that Mr. Schmoke's presence would have induced.
No question that the Democrats are the main beneficiaries, if for no other reason than that they outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. But Republicans get a modest bonus, too. Courtesy of Mr. Schmoke, the GOP roster likely will be thinned out and the badly outnumbered party can focus on one, maybe two primary candidates for governor. (A major handicap for Republicans is that they tend to stay home in primary elections, averaging only a 30 percent turnout even in contested elections.)
Democrats up and down the ticket are breathing easier because of Mr. Schmoke's magnanimous gesture. For one thing, he removed race as a potential issue in the general election. For another, Democrats are relieved of a candidate who might have been a drag on the ticket in the general election.
The hallmark of next year's elections is a jam-packed ballot. Voters will choose a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, as well as a U.S. senator, eight members of Congress, the newly reapportioned General Assembly, every county executive and most county councils, state's attorneys, sheriffs and judges at several levels.
Mr. Schmoke's withdrawal reverberates in odd places. The big winner might be Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who's up for re-election next year and who might have been forced onto a ticket with his friend, Mr. Schmoke. The Schmoke pullback also defuses the threat of a heavyweight Republican challenge to Mr. Sarbanes to take advantage of what might have been a racially divisive general election.
Another gainer among Democrats is Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening. Prince George's is 51 percent black, and Mr. Schmoke's dipsy-doodle leaves Mr. Glendening's home turf intact.
For his share in the rewards, Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg will now be unfettered by local competition and free to try to assemble the Baltimore support that would have been Mr. Schmoke's to claim.
The big losers among Democrats are City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Mrs. Clark won't get to play mayor for a year as she would have as automatic successor if Mr. Schmoke had run and won.
And Mr. Schaefer won't get to jerk Marylanders' chains any longer about reprising his years as mayor. There had been the fanciful rumors, sent aloft mainly by the governor's aides, that Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke would trade places -- Mr. Schaefer to City Hall and Mr. Schmoke to the State House.
All in all, Mr. Schmoke's decision to stay put at City Hall was a good deal for all but a few. He also did himself a favor -- and may be a stronger leader without the distractions of running a campaign while running a city.
Frank A. DeFilippo writes here on Maryland politics.