Maryland's Two-Ring Circus

February 12, 1994

The circus doesn't come to town as often as it used to, but no matter: we still have Maryland's politicians to provide mirthful wintertime entertainment. This season's maneuvering for governor is turning into a regular two-ring circus.

In the Democrats' ring, it's getting crowded. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, unable to succeed himself, continues to woo a bevy of beauty contestants. His latest quests: millionaire former Sen. Stewart Bainum Jr. and Orioles owner Peter Angelos. This is in addition to another Schaefer dark horse, Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski of East Baltimore.

All three add zest to the politicking. Mr. Miedusiewski is running a law-and-order, blue-collar-guy campaign. He claims the prize for the most colorful name. Mr. Bainum -- his family runs Manor Care nursing homes and Quality Inns -- has been dubbed by one columnist as "too rich to steal." As for Mr. Angelos, he offers the intriguing possibility of a governor dipping into state funds so his Orioles can buy a mega-star and clinch the pennant.

Meanwhile, one of the governor's bete-noires in the gubernatorial race, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, has been caught in a messy political divorce with his ex-campaign manager and erstwhile friend, Theodore G. Venetoulis. The two are suing one another, and political insiders are wagging their tongues over the deal the two men had cut: Mr. Venetoulis was to receive an astounding $250,000 to manage the Steinberg campaign.

In the Republican ring, Mr. Schaefer's other favorite candidate, Rep. Helen D. Bentley, is preparing for this campaign as though it were a real beauty contest. She quietly arranged for a little cosmetic surgery to stem chatter that she may be too old for the job (she turned 70 in November). And to fortify her slim treasury, Mrs. Bentley has scheduled some high-powered fund-raisers.

Outside the limelight, Democratic Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, in his usual plodding manner, is pulling together a broad coalition. Democratic Sen. Mary Boergers is trying to gain publicity for women's rights issues. Republican Del. Ellen Sauerbrey seeks to solidify her reputation as a dedicated fiscal conservative. Republican William Shepard doggedly criss-crosses the state preaching moderation while giving himself tutorials on government issues. And the latest entrant, former Del. Frank Conaway of Baltimore, says he's doing so because there was "no viable black candidate" in the race.

It's a fascinating group assembling under the political Big Top. All of them seem to be trying out their high-wire acts in preparation for the real performance that takes place this summer. By then, it could turn into a spectacular three-ring circus.

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