State House arrivals and departures

April 21, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

WHILE Gov. William Donald Schaefer jerks our chain over what he'll do next, his executive staff of 125 and the entire cabinet are updating their resumes.

For the next nine months there will be more arrivals and departures at the State House than at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Already Robert Walker is resigning as agriculture secretary to become a farm consultant in Eastern Europe. Joel Lee is giving up his billet as deputy secretary of economic and community development to become marketing director for the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Port director Adrian Teal has already jumped ship for the quiet security of a blue chip brokerage house.

Steve Zentz is returning to the private sector before his tour as deputy secretary of transportation is over.

Licensing and Regulation Secretary William Fogle is pounding the pavements and Economic and Community Development Secretary Mark Wasserman is knocking on board room doors.

And folks, we're not talking minimum-wage-and-bus-fare jobs. These are high five- and six-figure gigs -- the kind there aren't many of these days. Ask any white male over 40.

To be sure, Mr. Schaefer has assembled one of the largest personal staffs of any governor in the country. And he's expanded the cabinet system during his eight years in office, the latest creation being the elevation of the superintendent of state police to cabinet rank.

Many cabinet and sub-cabinet officials are willing to wait out the election year and hope to continue on the government dole through the good offices of the next governor.

But in the rarefied air of the State House itself, life after politics is no simple matter. It's not just the paychecks they'll miss; it's the power they wield. And it's the power that can be a problem.

Many of Mr. Schaefer's staffers have spent entire careers sucking up to the boss and defending his antic behavior and his many idiosyncrasies.

During the course of eight years as a gubernatorial aide -- and for many, 15 years before that as a mayoral aide -- it's tough not to have stiff-armed somebody along the way, maybe many bodies.

As a result, there are long knives waiting out there. It's get-even time.

In politics, it's the governor who takes the credit and the staff that gets the blame. That's because it's important to always protect the deniability of the governor.

Maryland is a state where by tradition the simple phrase "the governor wants" can move programs, bundles of paperwork, bulldozers, snow plows and even mountains if they're in the way of a new highway or park.

The reverse is also true. What the governor doesn't want can always be blamed on the hapless staffer who administered the )) lethal blow. For every judge who's appointed, for example, there are four other candidates who're going to be disappointed and angry.

Not to worry. There's always the proven career path of patronage. For staff attorneys there's often a judgeship or perhaps a lucrative career in lobbying.

For others there are appointments to administrative agencies, boards, commissions and high-paying jobs in the bureaucracy as well as in academe.

The trick of the government trade is to stay on the payroll and keep the pension going. Nobody understands that better than Mr. Schaefer.

Another ticklish maneuver is the old election-year dipsy-doodle: There are those on Mr. Schaefer's second floor who're passing the word to Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg's shrunken staff that they really do support the estranged Mr. Steinberg for governor but can't say so openly out of fear of retaliation from the lame-duck governor.

The most widely read book in the State House right now is not a novel by Danielle Steele or Tom Clancy. It's published by the state archives and it's the bible of government -- the "Maryland Manual," where virtually every patronage job in the state is listed.

Of course, the next governor could simply undo what Mr. Schaefer has done by abolishing positions and -- heaven forbid! -- downsizing government.

If Mr. Schaefer makes good on his threat to remain in public dTC office, many of his loyalists will simply stay comfortably hitched to his coattails and ride along to the next stop, as they've done for so many years.

But whatever Mr. Schaefer decides will in large measure affect the lives of all those who have spent their entire careers making him feel good. After all, isn't that why we pay these folks such big bucks?

Frank A. DeFilippo is a long-time observer of Maryland politics. He writes from Owings Mills.

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