Bainum now looking to run for governor


March 16, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Thanks to Ross Perot, Watergate and a mind-numbing array of home-grown corruption scandals, the world of politics has become user friendly for rich men with big ambitions like Stewart Bainum Jr.

Mr. Bainum, a 47-year-old millionaire Democratic businessman from Montgomery County, is poised to enter the race for governor.

Though he has not held public office since 1987, he has sufficient political standing to make a credible, perhaps even winning run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1978 and the state Senate four years later. In both jobs he was hard working and reasonably effective for a lawmaker with little seniority.

His political career was interrupted in 1986 when he ran for an open congressional seat against perhaps the one Republican he couldn't beat -- Constance A. Morella. In the years since, he has taken over control of the family firm, Manor Care Inc., a Silver Spring-based nursing home and hotel company, and nearly doubled its business.

Now he is back in the political ring, or almost back. He has formed an exploratory committee to test his appeal and craft his message in anticipation of his formal entrance into the race in the next month or so.

His other fine qualities notwithstanding, Mr. Bainum brings to the campaign something none of the other announced candidates of either party can claim -- big-time personal wealth. In 1986, he outspent Mrs. Morella 2 to 1, pouring a half million dollars of his own money into the race.

His preference, he said in an interview last week, is to finance the lion's share of his gubernatorial run with contributions from others. He was vague when asked how deeply he was prepared to dig into his own pockets.

"One of the big problems with politics," he mused, "is that a lot of the money comes from special interests."

That, of course, is the point. Not so long ago, a candidate who relied on his or her own wealth to run for office would be accused of trying to buy the election.

Such charges are still likely to fly if Mr. Bainum (or Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, an even richer possible aspirant) enters the race, but a lot of the sting may well have been taken out of them.

If so, Mr. Perot supplied the balm. The Texas billionaire ran his 1992 presidential campaign using substantial sums of his own money and turned it into a plus. He was, he said, his own man, beholden to no one.

Mr. Bainum, for his part, has been told by his polling firm, Hamilton & Staff, that the welcome extended to Mr. Perot by the voters was no fluke.

"They want someone who will steer clear of the present system of money-driven politics [campaign contributions] so the process of governance can finally work [common sense without special interests]," the pollster said in an internal campaign memorandum obtained by The Sun.

A poll taken for Mr. Bainum in December also reported that 44 percent of Democrats surveyed would look kindly on a candidate funding most of his campaign from his own money.

That the pollster tested responses on this issue would seem to speak volumes about Mr. Bainum's intentions.

Bentley ponders ticket

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the apparent front-runner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, has not compiled a short list of prospective lieutenant governor running mates yet, but three men are drawing most of the attention.

State Sen. John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County remains under active consideration. Two residents of vote rich Montgomery County are also being seriously discussed: Richard A. LaVay, a youthful developer now completing his first term in the House of Delegates, and Joseph diGenova, former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

A fascinating wild card recently added to the deck is Everett Alvarez Jr. of Rockville, an attorney who served in the Reagan administration as deputy director of the Peace Corps and deputy administrator of the old Veterans Administration.

Mr. Alvarez, a Navy pilot, was shot down off North Vietnam in 1964, captured and held until 1973. Since 1988 he has owned a government consulting firm in Northern Virginia.

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