Comptroller's political future seems bleak at best

December 10, 1993|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

The furor surrounding Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's efforts to have the city lease a building owned by her and her husband could severely damage -- and possibly end -- a once-promising political career, many political observers say.

"I think this has extremely serious political consequences," said the Rev. Peter Bramble, who pushed Mrs. McLean's 1991 campaign for comptroller with his column in the Baltimore Times.

"I haven't spoken to anyone who is sympathetic. There are lots of reasons for that . . . putting the address of the rear of your building on a document -- that's damn close to fraud."

The state special prosecutor and the city Ethics Commission are looking into the deal. And, already, there is rampant speculation in City Hall that the controversy could lead to Mrs. McLean's political downfall.

"No question about it, the damage is done," said Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd. "It's unfortunate. But the political body isn't even cold and people already have her in the grave and are lining up for her job."

Haysbert is still hopeful

But, while acknowledging the damage already inflicted by the controversy, one of Mrs. McLean's supporters remains hopeful that her political career will survive.

Raymond V. Haysbert, chief executive officer of the Parks Sausage Co. and an architect of her 1991 campaign, said the comptroller's fate will be determined by the outcome of the investigations.

"It all depends on what comes out," he said. "If the elections were within 90 days, I'd say she would have zilch chance. But the elections for city officers are a couple years away."

Efforts to reach Mrs. McLean yesterday were unsuccessful.

Would Landers seek job?

Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, a former councilman who lost to Mrs. McLean in the 1991 Democratic primary, said her latest troubles have brought him telephone calls from supporters urging him to run for comptroller again in 1995.

"People are talking to me about it," he said. "On the basis of these revelations, people are going to look at her candidacy and performance in a different light. She has seriously, seriously damaged her credibility here. If somebody were to ask what her credibility was on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say it is a .5 right now."

Mr. Landers also said that people have urged him to make himself a candidate for comptroller should Mrs. McLean step down before her term ends.

Should she step down, the $53,000-a-year job would be filled by a majority vote of the City Council.

In 1991, Mrs. McLean's election as comptroller was seen by many as proof of her emerging political prowess. Before ascending to the city government's third highest post, she had served two terms in the City Council.

"At the time, I would have said that she had, at least, statewide political potential," Mr. Haysbert said. "I could have seen her as state comptroller. She had potential to be the mayor."

That amazed many, because when Mrs. McLean was first elected to the City Council she was seen as a politician with plenty of money to spend but no real political base.

But Mrs. McLean managed to rise above that, making herself a leader on minority business issues in the council and a viable citywide candidate.

But controversy has dogged Mrs. McLean ever since becoming comptroller.

First, there was the new city car she bought even as she was settling in as Baltimore's fiscal watchdog. Then, financial problems at the family travel agency became public, casting doubt on the business savvy she had touted as a selling point during her campaign for office. Now, this.

"It is a character thing, when you go out of your way to change an address like that," Mr. Bramble said. "I think she is dead in the water. This is serious."

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