Steinberg loses two more aides CAMPAIGN 1994

April 21, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg has suffered two more staff defections from his gubernatorial campaign organization, leaving him with only one of the four political professionals he hired in January to handle the day-to-day operations of his quest for the state's highest office.

The latest to leave Mr. Steinberg's seemingly troubled campaign are Darrel L. Thompson, the field director, whose tenure ends tomorrow, and Sarah Busch, the scheduler, who departed last week.

News of the most recent defections swept Tuesday night's state Democratic Party dinner and $100-a-ticket fund-raiser, which drew about 400 office-olders and party activists, along with U.S. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, to Martin's West in Woodlawn.

But gossip about the travails of the Steinberg campaign competed with puzzlement about the lieutenant governor's absence from the event, which was attended by two of his closest rivals for the Democratic nomination, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening and Montgomery state Sen. Mary H. Boergers, and campaign aides.

"He's not here, and there's no one here to represent him," Baltimore City Council Vice President Vera P. Hall, the state party chairwoman, said of Mr. Steinberg.

Mr. Glendening and Ms. Boergers each had a table set up with bumper stickers and literature. As for Mr. Steinberg, an 8-inch stack of reprints of a 2-year-old magazine article about him shared a table with material from several candidates for other offices.

Mr. Steinberg could not be reached. Dennis C. Donaldson, who is running the daily operations of the Steinberg campaign, said his boss had a prior commitment to speak to the Baltimore County Association for Retarded Citizens, an organization with which he has long been involved.

Steinberg press secretary Dan Walter, the sole surviving member of the January recruits, sought to portray the latest departures as predictable, in that Mr. Thompson and Ms. Busch joined the lieutenant governor's team with Kevin Mack, who quit as campaign manager in March.

"They got better jobs," said Mr. Walter. "I guess it's all sort of fallout from Kevin Mack's leaving, because he had hired both of them."

Mr. Mack's abrupt departure came amid reports that the lieutenant governor was routinely ignoring the advice of the professionals he had retained to help him win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and, after that, the governorship.

The same complaints resurfaced yesterday, one source close to the campaign saying, "Mickey wants to run his own campaign, so everyone said, go ahead. . . . The professional people were not allowed to do their jobs."

Another source with ties to the Steinberg organization maintained that the lieutenant governor only hired a staff because he believed it gave his campaign credibility with prospective donors and the press, not because he wanted to use it.

"It's all an appearance thing," the source said. "He doesn't feel he needs it [a staff]."

Mr. Thompson, who grew up in Randallstown and still lives there, could not be reached for comment. Mr. Walter said he is planning to work for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which tries to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives.

Mr. Mack also joined the DCCC upon leaving the Steinberg team.

Ms. Busch is working for Democratic House candidate Doug Bosco in California. Reached at Bosco headquarters in Napa, she declined comment except to say she had not planned to leave the Steinberg campaign prematurely when she joined it.

"When I signed on with Mickey, I had every intention of staying through election day," she said.

Mr. Donaldson, a former state legislator and old friend of Mr. Steinberg, said the resignations of Mr. Thompson and Ms. Busch would not adversely affect the campaign.

"We'll replace both of them and go onward and upward," he said. "I don't see in April that this change is going to have an impact on our out come in September," meaning the Sept. 13 primary.

Mr. Donaldson brushed off complaints that Mr. Steinberg ignores the advice of political professionals, insisting that Mr. Steinberg reasonably retains the authority to pick and choose among various political options.

"I've been involved in the campaign for almost two years, and it never occurred to me when I came into the campaign, or now, that the candidate would not have choices to make," Mr. Donaldson said.

Though he did not carry the title, Mr. Donaldson was Mr. Steinberg's first campaign manager, but stepped aside when the lieutenant governor brought Theodore G. Venetoulis, the former Baltimore county executive, into the campaign last year.

Mr. Steinberg and Mr. Venetoulis had a bitter falling-out in the fall and are now suing each other.

Mr. Steinberg's current problems notwithstanding, political observers warn against writing off Mr. Steinberg, the only statewide office-holder in the race, the front-runner in the polls and for the moment the major candidate from the Baltimore area.

Mr. Glendening, Senator Boergers and businessman and ex-legislator Stewart Bainum Jr., who is expected to enter the race next month, are all from suburban Washington.

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