Boergers banks on what sets her apart Would-be governor not one of the boys

October 13, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

State Sen. Mary H. Boergers' chances of winning the Democratic primary for governor rest partly on a hope that voters will choose the only candidate who isn't a white guy in a tie.

Ms. Boergers, who officially launches her campaign today, clearly wants her candidacy to capitalize on what makes her different from her two principal opponents.

A two-term state delegate and first-term senator from Montgomery County, Ms. Boergers is not an entrenched member of the state party hierarchy. That description certainly fits Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening.

Her political record is so little known that it may be hard for the public to bring her picture into focus. Unlike her opponents, she has not had to make decisions in an executive position, a point they're sure to use against her.

But she is a woman running for governor, a rarity in the long history of Maryland gubernatorial politics that is bound to gain her attention.

There are actually two women running for governor in 1994; the other is Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Baltimore County delegate. (A third woman, 2nd District Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, is toying with the idea of running.)

Until now, however, a woman has run for Maryland's highest post only once. That was in 1974, when GOP stalwart Louise Gore sacrificed herself against the powerful Democratic incumbent, Marvin Mandel. She lost by a 2-to-1 margin.

Ms. Boergers, a 47-year-old mother of two from Kensington, says, "I'm not running as a woman, and I don't want anyone to vote for me because I'm a woman. I want to be judged on my record, ideas and priorities."

Yet, her gender may well be her trump card in a race in which she faces opponents with more experience, name recognition, connections and money.

At an appearance before the Greenbelt Democratic Club, she was introduced as "the only Democratic candidate for governor who is a woman." Women in the audience clapped heartily.

"The men can clap, too," she quickly interjected.

After her talk, however, it was the women in the group who appeared most impressed.

"Even though she is a long shot, she has a chance," club member Pat Unger said. "I think women are looking for a woman to vote for."

Ms. Boergers readily acknowledges that women and women's groups are her natural political base and makes no secret of her desire to tap that base for all the money, volunteers and support she can get. In Maryland primary elections, women usually make more than 50 percent of the voters.

She has been endorsed by the Women's Campaign Fund, a national bipartisan organization that supports abortion-rights candidates, and she is seeking financial support from Emily's List, a national political organization that helps raise money for female candidates.

But most observers can't imagine that she will be able to raise $2 million, a figure she agrees will probably be needed for a successful race.

"The biggest hurdle women [candidates] have is fund-raising," Ms. Boergers says, adding that women often make less than their male counterparts, rarely head large corporations and might not have a lot of discretionary money to spend.

She says female candidates are more likely than their male counterparts to be declared long shots and are more likely to be dismissed as willing to settle for some lesser post -- in her case, lieutenant governor.

"I'm really running for governor," she says. "I'm not pretending to do 'A' because I really want to do 'D.' " She adds that she "can't imagine the circumstances" under which she would d settle for the No. 2 spot.

In the past month, her chances for the No. 1 spot appear to have improved substantially, thanks to state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, both of whom suddenly dropped out of the race. Mr. Schmoke had been considered the early front-runner in a five-way race in which Ms. Boergers was buried in the back of the pack.

"Now people around the state know I'm running," she said recently. "In a crowded field, it's easy to get lost in the crowd."

Mr. Glendening is still ignoring her candidacy. When Mr. Schmoke stepped aside, Mr. Glendening proclaimed that the race had come down to him and Mr. Steinberg.

'The invisible woman'

"My supporters are off the wall. Women around the state are offended," Ms. Boergers responded. "It is so blatantly an attempt to cut me out as 'the invisible woman.' "

Political pollster Keith Haller says, "It's not coincidental that neither Steinberg nor Glendening are mentioning her as a candidate. They fear she might take off."

Mr. Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research in Bethesda, says that if Ms. Boergers plays her cards right, she has a realistic shot at winning next September's primary.

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