Schmoke-Schaefer truce wears thin

March 17, 1994|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Writer

The patched-up relationship between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, stitched together last fall after years of political feuding, appears to be fraying.

Yesterday morning, an angry governor challenged Mr. Schmoke -- and broadly criticized the city for its crime and drug problem -- after reading the mayor's disapproving comments about January's massive State Police raid of The Block.

Mr. Schmoke, for his part, replied that his criticisms only echo statements city police officials have made to the state police.

The talk was tough, but both men insist that their 6-month-old detente survives.

Through his press secretary, the governor said last night, "I'm going to keep working with the mayor."

And Mr. Schmoke said, "No one should conclude we are returning to what I call the bad old days."

But the last few weeks have been tense ones for the governor, who still yearns to manage city government, and the mayor, who wants to run an independent administration.

Mr. Schmoke said he phoned the governor twice yesterday but never reached him. An aide returned his call, and the mayor said he and Lainy LeBow-Sachs had "a good conversation."

Disagreements over the raid on The Block provided only some of the tense moments between the two men in recent weeks:

* Mr. Schaefer was patient but not pleased when Mr. Schmoke pushed ahead to sign the Canadian Football League Colts for Memorial Stadium while the governor was still campaigning for a National Football League team in Baltimore.

* Mayoral aides were visibly annoyed during a State House meeting last month when Mr. Schaefer offered his suggestions on a new city-state-Johns Hopkins partnership for the renewal of East Baltimore. The governor came close to storming out of the session.

* Mr. Schaefer complained privately this week that City Hall's clumsy lobbying nearly killed a bill that would allow a needle-exchange program in East Baltimore, a program Mr. Schmoke has been pushing for more than a year. The measure was unexpectedly defeated in the Senate Monday before being resurrected yesterday.

* And then came an article in The Sun in which Mr. Schmoke said he would not like to see another state police raid like the one conducted in January on The Block.

Mr. Schaefer angrily opened yesterday's Board of Public Works meeting with another stinging condemnation of The Sun, which he accused of executing "a vicious attack" on the state police, and of Mr. Schmoke, who he said asked for and approved the investigation that led to the raid.

Mr. Schmoke "asked for [police] help in the downtown, all of which I agreed to do," Mr. Schaefer said. He took offense at Mr. Schmoke's criticism, quoted in The Sun, "that he didn't know about what we were doing -- and I will not get into a controversy over this -- but he did."

Mr. Schmoke said the strong language should not be taken as a sign of a new round of feuding.

The relationship "is certainly is a hundred times better than we had in my first few years as mayor," he said. "A disagreement over an item or two shouldn't indicate that the relationship is over. From time to time, there are going to be matters in which we have a different point of view."

The problems between the two men go back to 1982, when Mr. Schaefer was mayor and Mr. Schmoke was elected state's attorney.

For years, they were distant. Mr. Schaefer -- older, intense and accomplished -- had no patience for the diffident young Ivy Leaguer. Aides to Mr. Schaefer say the relationship only got worse as the governor offered the city advice and the Schmoke staff rebuffed him.

But the two men unexpectedly sat down in September to discuss city issues, then announced they would work together much more closely. Six months later, both sides say the new tensions -- though troublesome -- won't doom the new partnership.

"They may be arguing, but at least they're talking," said Pam Kelly, a top Schaefer aide.

Legislators say the tensions might go on but won't prove fatal.

"I don't think they're ever going to be close," said Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings. "And I don't think it's necessary that they be close. There are generational differences. There are political differences. There are even differences in their value systems. It's just important that they work together."

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