Miedusiewski catches gubernatorial fever

THE POLITICAL GAME

November 10, 1993|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Staff Writer

For state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, affable East Baltimore bar owner and leader of men, the past year has been an intoxicating one, so much so that he now describes himself as "a breath away" from announcing his candidacy for governor.

His trial balloon, which has floated crazily over the political landscape for more than a month, has puzzled most observers and given rise to a number of devil theories, with Gov. William Donald Schaefer usually cast as the Prince of Darkness.

Mr. Schaefer told the crowd at a Miedusiewski crab feast in late September that those interested in leadership in the state should consider drafting American Joe for governor, nearly flooring the guest of honor.

At first the Schaefer remark seemed like a throwaway line, kind words among friends for an old political ally. As the governor continued to encourage Mr. Miedusiewski, however, others saw darker motives.

The governor, who completes his second term next year and cannot succeed himself, has made it clear that he dislikes the three announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates -- Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County.

The Schaefer stroking of Mr. Miedusiewski was thus seen by some as an attempt to keep Pikesville's Mr. Steinberg from consolidating his political base in the Baltimore metropolitan area, an effort to freeze campaign workers and contributors until someone more to the governor's liking entered the race.

The governor's murky motives aside, it turns out that Mr. Miedusiewski, 44, had been quietly contemplating a gubernatorial run for months. Friends and longtime supporters, he said last week, had been suggesting that he consider a statewide race well before Mr. Schaefer unexpectedly sprinkled holy water on the notion.

Since the crab feast, the encouragement has intensified. He will test the depth of his support Nov. 30 with a $1,000-a-ticket fund-raiser at Haussner's restaurant.

What makes a seemingly rational politician with a serviceable but hardly scintillating record in the House of Delegates and state Senate think he can run and win the highest office in the state?

Does a man who two decades ago changed his name to the name of his bar so he could run for office in East Baltimore truly expect to ignite the enthusiasm of, for example, the upscale policy wonks in Montgomery County, now the state's most populous subdivision?

Those are just two of the questions Mr. Miedusiewski will have to answer if his late-blooming campaign is to be taken seriously.

It seems, to neutral observers, a Mittyesque fantasy. If so, Mr. Miedusiewski is in good company. Back in the 1970s, state Sen. Harry J. McGuirk, old Soft Shoes himself, the canniest pol in the General Assembly, patiently explained to a reporter how men and women are led into overreaching by the flattery of friends, well-meaning and otherwise.

As it turned out, even Mr. McGuirk was not immune to such blandishments. A few years later, in 1982, he challenged then-Gov. Harry Hughes in the Democratic primary. He was trounced by more than 3-to-1.

Mr. Miedusiewski's ambitions may well have been swollen by his association over the past year or so with Bill Clinton. Last October, candidate Clinton shot pool in his Canton bar.

In April, on opening day of the baseball season, Senator Miedusiewski was the only state legislator whom President Clinton invited to ride the train with him from Union Station to Camden Yards. There have been other warm encounters between the two men.

As a freshly minted Friend of Bill, perhaps he might ask the president for some advice. If Mr. Clinton is a true Friend of American Joe, that conversation might well go like this:

Senator Miedusiewski: "Bill, I'm a breath away."

President Clinton: "Don't inhale, A.J."

Tsongas is coming

Paul E. Tsongas, the winner of Maryland's 1992 Democratic dTC primary, returns to Baltimore next week.

The ex-senator from Massachusetts will be at Harrison's Pier Five Clarion Inn at the Inner Harbor for a fund-raising reception Nov. 18 promoting the Concord Coalition. The coalition was formed a year ago to alert the nation to the perils of the $4.4 billion national debt.

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