For our lives, gubernatorial race is out of context


Saturday outside Pimlico Racetrack, I bump into American Joe Miedusiewski, who is simultaneously the candidate for governor from East Baltimore and the man with the unanimously misspelled last name.

"Hey, Mike," he says.

"Hey, hey," I say back, cleverly ad libbing double-time while trying to remember his name, misspelled or not.

"American Joe," he says.

"Of course," I say, for I know him for years and, while still unable to spell his last name without assistance, know his face well enough that I should remember it in or out of a racetrack setting.

"I didn't recognize you out of context," I say.

He's going into the track to be seen, and I'm leaving to hold onto the last vestiges of my money. He's going in, on this Preakness day, because this is what politicians do with less than four months until primary election day. But it takes a moment to recognize him, not only because he's out of context at the racetrack, but also because this great big race for governor of Maryland seems at the moment to be out of context with our lives.

At the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel two nights ago, there was a major fund-raiser for Casper R. Taylor, the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, a man currently known to thousands of voters as Casper Who?

He had a pretty good night at the Omni. Raised about $250,000, everybody says. Raised so much money that suddenly, despite time running out until primary election day, there is now talk of a Casper Taylor for Governor campaign.

This is pretty impressive for a former barkeep from Cumberland who, until six months ago, had never held a statewide position. It's a tribute to his political smarts, and his ability to make people get along but, also, it's a sign of general indifference to others in the race.

Taylor would join a Democratic slate in which the currently perceived man to beat, Parris Glendening, begins running into a little flak. It turns out his opponents can add, and they've noticed that, in between promises to the mayor of Baltimore, and the Montgomery County executive, and various unions, all of whose endorsements Glendening's gained, he's managed to promise away something in the neighborhood of $200 million.

Thus we also hear another name on the gubernatorial horizon: Dr. Nancy Grasmick, the state school superintendent. She is a dedicated, hard-working woman whose chief qualification to be governor is that she oversees the very public schools which make all who see them tremble for the future.

Add to this list Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg, the lieutenant governor currently trying to figure out how to look serious; state Sen. Mary Boergers, barely known outside the Washington suburbs; and American Joe, the state senator written off (despite raising considerable money) by those who reflexively write off all things smacking of East Baltimore.

And thus we have a list of Democrats who have, collectively and individually, failed to make much of a dent in the public consciousness as September's primary draws closer.

At the Omni Hotel the other night, Casper Taylor talked of the need to fight crime. This becomes an echo of every other candidate, all with marvelous intentions, all without a clue to stopping it.

Everybody talks about crime, and meanwhile the entire culture has moved from one of burglar alarms for homes to alarms for cars, and the great corporations talk of moving from downtown, and "For Sale" signs pop out on residential lawns.

And it's remarkable to see. The politicians talk of the need for change, and the truth is, the criminal class is the greatest cause of change in this city at the present time.

It's important to specify the city, because it always comes first. The counties still haven't figured this out. They wish to starve the city, and they conduct miserly battles inside the State House, where their representatives play on fears, and many think they can just put this protective moat around the city and everyone outside the moat will be saved.

As the city goes, the suburbs will follow. The candidates for governor haven't talked about this yet, haven't talked substantively about the things that touch people's lives, which is why their campaigns seem so terribly out of context to our lives, and why every day, as the sun comes up, someone new thinks of joining the race for governor, and everyone says, Why not?

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