Smoking's adversary is veteran firefighter

March 13, 1994|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Writer

He's made a career of putting out political fires -- or starting them -- and now he's turning to smoke.

Or, more precisely, to smoking.

William A. Fogle Jr., the state's secretary of licensing and regulation, says his responsibility for worker health and safety compels him to take action.

He has become the first state official in the country to issue a smoking ban, using regulatory authority derived from occupational and health laws.

Because he has headed the department for almost eight years, and because smoking is not a new threat, he concedes the last-minute nature of his action. The intensity of concern about passive smoking led him to act now, he says.

His order, planned since fall and recently promulgated, requires legislative review but not approval. Unless a court intervenes, the rules will go into effect this spring.

Mr. Fogle says he is undeterred by the prospect of a lawsuit. The state attorney general, he says, has affirmed that he has the authority to issue his regulation.

He insists that the ban was strictly his idea.

If Gov. William Donald Schaefer had opposed it, he says, "I would have talked to him and convinced him it was the right thing to do."

Some within the Schaefer administration say the move is consistent with the sort of attention-grabbing or grandstanding one might expect from the ranks of a lame duck administration.

But friends of Mr. Fogle, such as Paul E. Schurick, the governor's chief of staff, say the move is characteristic. Mr. Schurick says the 58-year-old, guitar-playing secretary is a "gutsy" guy who doesn't flinch under attack.

It has been a useful quality for him over the years.

Maneuvering in tight quarters

"I've seen Bill in some very difficult spots but he always comes out of them," Mr. Schurick said.

Before going to work at Baltimore's City Hall in the 1960s, Mr. Fogle held a number of jobs in private industry. When Mr. Schaefer became mayor in 1971, he sent Mr. Fogle to solve problems in the city garage, the city markets, the city water department -- even the city election board. In each, by all accounts from the Schaefer camp, Mr. Fogle was a firefighter without peer.

When Mr. Schaefer became governor in 1987, Mr. Fogle was named secretary of licensing and regulation.

At the time of his appointment, he said, "I would lay on the tracks for the mayor." That devotion helped him to a Cabinet post and a starting salary of $68,000. He now makes $92,911.

In Annapolis, he created a few flash fires of his own.

He spent more than $7,000 renovating his office, equipping it with a $996 swivel chair.

He sent up a storm of criticism when he steered potential clients whose business he regulates to his friend, lobbyist Carolyn T. Burridge. His department also gave her a $5,000 contract to run a media relations seminar for state officials.

In those early days, he seemed anxious to soft-pedal the function of his office, suggesting that its title -- licensing and regulation -- sounded a bit "negative" or anti-business. Why not remove these offensive words and find something more soothing like commerce or consumer affairs? The idea was set aside.

He recently suggested within Schaefer councils that if Maryland could not get a National Football League team, it should form a competing league of its own. Nothing came of that proposal, either.

After an opening spate of controversy, Mr. Fogle seemed anxious to stay out of the traffic, though he was in the news last year for firing John T. Donoho. The former insurance commissioner had angered the governor by generating tough regulations and tough talk about Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland.

Mr. Fogle survived all of these potentially incendiary encounters.

Born on July 16, 1935, in Connelsville, Pa., he has lived in Maryland since 1939, when his family moved to Dundalk.

He later worked in the "hot mills" at Bethlehem Steel while he went to college, first at the University of Maryland and then at the University of Baltimore.

He was hired to work for the city of Baltimore by the same Mr. Donoho he would later fire from state government. Mr. Donoho was then a consultant to the administration of the late Theodore R. McKeldin.

Mr. Fogle decided to take on tobacco, he says, after an accident in which smoking led to a fatal fire in South Baltimore.

"With the complaints and the accident -- and the state having the [second] highest cancer death rate in the country -- I thought it was time we do something."

Few negative responses

Most of the reaction he's had has been positive, he said.

"I thought I'd have a lot of upset people, but just the opposite. We had 100 calls and only two were negative."

As always, the smoking lobby objected.

Mr. Fogle says he discussed his order briefly with Bruce C. Bereano, the lobbyist who represents the Tobacco Institute. Mr. Bereano's side of the conversation was brief:

"He said, 'See you in court,' " Mr. Fogle says.

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