Irby, Douglass, pillars of 45th District, have eyes for other offices

THE POLITICAL GAME

April 06, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

East Baltimore's predominantly black 45th Legislative District, a spawning ground for some of the city's most important black politicians, may soon lose two of its stalwarts.

After eight years in Annapolis, state Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr., a Democrat who entered political office through the City Council, is pondering a return to his roots.

Mr. Irby is said to be 85 percent decided not to seek re-election this year. Instead, he's looking at a 1995 race for council president, a post once held by his mentor, former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns.

Mr. Irby, a youthful 62, said he has been bombarded in recent weeks by friends and political associates urging him to run for his Senate seat again. He may well do that, he said. But, he added, smiling, "I think for me there's adventure in the city."

Then there's Del. John W. Douglass, a fixture in the House for nearly a quarter-century. He, too, is leaning against seeking re-election. He has his eye on a major state office.

Mr. Douglass, who ran for city comptroller three times against the redoubtable Hyman A. Pressman, said he is thinking about running for state treasurer when the new legislature convenes next January.

The treasurer, who serves on the powerful three-member Board of Public Works, is elected by the General Assembly. Mr. Douglass said his plans hinge on whether the current treasurer, Lucille Maurer, decides to retire.

A year ago, Mr. Douglass, 51, was a very unhappy man. He had bucked R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., then House speaker, on a couple of key votes and had paid the price.

In retaliation for his refusal to go along, or so Mr. Douglass believes, Mr. Mitchell transferred him out of his prized seat on the Appropriations Committee to one on Ways and Means.

Assignment to the House tax-writing panel is not exactly exile, but Mr. Douglass enjoyed Appropriations and publicly protested, stunning fellow lawmakers by declaring from the floor on the first day of the 1993 General Assembly session, "Members of the House of Delegates are not chattel."

It was, for Mr. Douglass, an unusual retreat into the sacred, a subtle if possibly unintentional playing of the race card by a thoughtful, buttoned-down legislator rarely if ever given to such tactics.

To further punctuate his displeasure, he boycotted meetings of his new committee for the 1993 session. And he began talking about retirement.

Cut to the 1994 session. Thanks to the new speaker, Casper R. Taylor Jr., Mr. Douglass is back on Appropriations and seems reborn. He dutifully attends meetings of the panel and has resumed his role as a respected, involved participant.

Even so, he notes a deadening sense of frustration that the gains his community made in the late 1960s and early 1970s have not been built upon as vigorously as he had hoped.

The Angelos watch

Contrary to rumors, Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos has not decided against running for governor. "I have not absolutely foreclosed the possibility," he said in a brief phone conversation Saturday.

The prospect that the enormously engaged Mr. Angelos -- freshly hatched baseball mogul, active litigator and seeker after a National Football League franchise for his hometown -- might take on a political campaign has always had an oddball quality to it.

But if he wants to be governor, and few close to him doubt that he does, he may not get another chance.

"At his age, 65, this would be the time to do it, not wait four or eight years," said an associate.

Dissin' the Donald

Earlier this year, nursing home and hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr. paid a courtesy call on Gov. William Donald Schaefer to say he was thinking of running for governor.

As Mr. Bainum had hoped, the governor encouraged him, seeing him as a pro-business candidate in the Schaefer mold. Mr. Schaefer said he would help him with fund-raising and promoted him to his political friends, so much so that State House aides have been talking breathlessly about an impending Bainum candidacy for weeks.

So what's this? Mr. Bainum, who has formed an exploratory committee to assess his chances, sent out a letter to thousands of potential supporters on March 11. Though he did not mention the governor by name, he seemed to be describing Mr. Schaefer's stewardship in less than friendly terms. Herewith a Bainum sampler:

"And now, more than ever, we need to change government, because government simply isn't responding to our most critical needs.

"Although the state budget has increased more than 60 percent during the past seven years, the extra money hasn't made our state better. . . .

"Maryland is losing its job base -- more than 100,000 jobs vanished over the past four years. And our public schools continue to decline -- in Baltimore City alone, every year nearly 20 percent of high school students drop out!

"Quite simply, we the taxpayers aren't getting a good return on our investment in state government."

Said Bainum spokesman David Weaver: "They're not attacks on Schaefer. . . . I don't think he would take issue with the notion that we can do better in those areas."

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