Schaefer, '92 Bush supporter, longs for '94 Clinton embrace

THE POLITICAL GAME

February 09, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

During the four years of George Bush's presidency, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the Republican chief executive became personal and political friends.

In the governor's view, the Bush administration had been good to Maryland, at times providing much-needed infusions of cash. Mr. Schaefer even visited Mr. Bush at the Camp David retreat.

Thus, on Oct. 29, 1992, five days before the presidential election, the governor crashed across party lines and endorsed Mr. Bush, outraging fellow Maryland Democrats. The next day, standing beside Mr. Bush at a Republican rally outside St. Louis, he declared, "It was an easy decision for me to come out here and endorse him because I know I'm right."

Back home, where the governor's popularity had plunged, local Democrats and even a few Republicans took turns piling on, many saying the Bush endorsement would actually benefit Bill Clinton in Maryland.

"I think by endorsing Bush he has forfeited his right to be the titular head of the Democratic Party," said Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, by then already estranged from Mr. Schaefer.

Bitterness among party regulars festered in the afterglow of Mr. Clinton's victory, so much so that for a time party regulars thought about somehow censuring Mr. Schaefer.

Cut to Monday a week ago, the annual black-tie fund-raising banquet of the Democratic Governors Association at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, an event that drew little press attention.

The featured speaker, President Clinton, stood on the podium, basking in the cheers of his old colleagues from the nation's state houses.

At a table in the center of the room sat Mr. Schaefer, arms folded, listening studiously as the president began his remarks with warm words for the governors, like Mr. Schaefer, who would be leaving office after this year.

He started with Hawaii's John D. Waihee III, then moved on to others. Curiosity tinged with anxiety gripped members of the governor's entourage as they waited to hear what, if anything, the president might have to say about Mr. Schaefer.

Finally the president came to Mr. Schaefer.

"I want to say a special word of appreciation to one of my neighboring governors now," he said. "William Donald Schaefer of Maryland, who has done a lot of things. . . . "

Mr. Clinton paused impishly as the politically savvy crowd snickered. Mr. Schaefer looked down, as if to divine some elusive mystery in the broken patterns of his half-eaten chocolate mousse.

Mr. Schaefer has "been more outspoken than me," the president grinned. "But don't you ever forget this," he said, turning serious. "In addition to helping revitalize and rebuild Baltimore, he was out here fighting to do something sane and strong about guns a long time before it was popular. He was on the cutting edge of change."

The crowd broke into applause. Mr. Schaefer's head snapped up. Then he smiled. His table companions, among them ex-Gov. Marvin Mandel, breathed a sigh of relief.

Yesterday, Mr. Schaefer, through his press secretary, said, "I think the president now understands I don't turn my back on a friend. He also understands we've done a lot of good things in Maryland." But the governor's comments were edged with frustration, if not peevishness, as he complained that the president's public display of comity has not been accompanied by a more meaningful political embrace.

"I've offered my hand in friendship and to support him on crime and job creation, just like I helped him with NAFTA, but he hasn't taken me up on it," the governor said.

New Glendening aide

Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive and Democratic candidate for governor, has finally ended his search for a new campaign press secretary.

He has chosen David Seldin, 26, who will be joining the campaign staff next week following a year as an assistant press secretary in the Clinton White House. Mr. Seldin was a field organizer for Mr. Clinton during the presidential primaries, working in New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Maryland. He will replace Brian Morton, who left Mr. Glendening's campaign team last month.

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