Blair Lee IV: Man on a mission still rejects making a run for office

THE POLITICAL GAME

November 24, 1993|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Staff Writer

Blair Lee IV calls himself a Montgomery County militant, alternately a suburban terrorist. He writes a take-no-prisoners column for a local newspaper in which he demonizes Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer and The Sun.

"I'm the bad cop," he says. "My job is to scare the s out of The Baltimore Sun and William Donald Schaefer so someone else can come in and make peace. You can't make peace until you make war."

His words are harsh, but he smiles broadly as he lists his arch-enemies, as if he has found in them worthy opponents who suit his purposes in more ways than one.

Perhaps their most valuable role has been to help him mute the voices of his ancestors -- admirals, generals, ambassadors, senators and sundry other statesmen -- the pictures on the wall, as he once described them, men who always seemed to demand that he redeem his proud political heritage.

At 48, he doesn't look like a terrorist, suburban or otherwise. He still resembles the boyish young man who came clumping out of the Appalachia outback 16 years ago to take the reins of his father's sputtering campaign for governor.

The contrast between father and son was striking. Blair Lee III, the acting governor, bookish and introspective. Blair IV, big, rugged, an outgoing and appealing figure, Boomer Esiason in mufti. He called himself "acting son." Everyone else called him B-4.

Politics aside, there was an intriguing subtext to that campaign. The Lees, the first family of Montgomery County, had been devastated by the social upheaval ushered in by the Vietnam War. In 1973 a son, Pete, plunged to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge. He was known to be involved with drugs, though an autopsy revealed no trace of narcotics.

Estranged from his father, Blair IV, Princeton and Georgetown Law behind him, was by then living with his wife, Mary, and infant son, Jake, on a hardscrabble farm on the Virginia-Tennessee border. Politics was in his blood and for a time he had been consumed by it, but he had stilled its throbbing.

Then came the summer of 1977. His father asked him to come home and guide his campaign. He returned, he said, because it was the first time his father had ever asked him for anything.

The campaign went down in flames the following year. Blair IV laid much of the blame on The Sun, which loudly and fervently endorsed another candidate, a long shot named Harry Hughes, the eventual winner. There were two other, less-noticed results. Father and son were reconciled, the warm relationship that had long eluded them lasting until Blair III's death in 1985.

In addition, Blair IV's appetite for politics was reawakened.

He became a lobbyist for Montgomery County, whose General Assembly delegation, peopled with good-government types, had a reputation for correcting comma faults in their already moribund bills while the more sophisticated State House players were cutting deals and carving up the spoils, shipping much of the take to beleaguered but politically potent Baltimore.

Blair IV screamed foul. To his mind, Montgomery County, politically anemic despite its considerable population, was being victimized. Baltimore, he insisted, runs the state; Montgomery County pays the bills.

The years passed. He managed Steve Sachs' losing 1986 gubernatorial campaign. The question was always there. When are you going to run yourself, Blair? He occasionally thought about it, always rejected the idea.

He still rejects it. His father had been an absentee father. He himself can recall having dinner with his family just six times in his two years on the Sachs campaign.

"You can't have both," he decided. "You can't be effective in politics and be an effective father."

He now says he has found his calling. As a columnist for the Montgomery Journal, he can be described as a pro-Montgomery, anti-Baltimore pamphleteer in the Tom Paine tradition.

He calls himself "a politician who writes a column." He has a weekly cable television show as well. He has influence. He believes he has raised the consciousness of county citizens. If he has not made many friends among politicians, he has made a difference.

"Montgomery County needed a political mobilization, not another delegate," he said. The icy glares from the pictures on the wall have turned to smiles, at least he likes to think so.

"I'm not willing to sacrifice my family and my happiness," he says, "so this is my compromise."

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