Choosing the Guv: a Summer Snapshot

June 09, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Correction: Thomas B. Finan Jr. points out two significan errors in a June column of mine about his father's 1966 campaign for governor of Maryland.

I wrote that The Sun endorsed Congressman Carlton Sickles in the Democratic primary that September, but Mr. Finan sent me a copy of two editorials warmly endorsing his father, then Maryland's attorney general.

I also failed to include the votes from Baltimore when giving the results of that election, in which Mr. Finan finished behind George Mahoney and Mr. Sickles. The 28,000 votes Mr. Finan received in Baltimore made the margin closer than I reported. The actual totals were Mahoney 148,446, Sickles 146,507, and ++ Finan 134,216.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Havre de Grace -- Here's a snapshot of the Maryland Democratic Party trying to choose a nominee for governor.

Have a look. As you can see, the party's badly divided.

The liberals, including the two U.S. senators, prefer this rather colorless fellow from Prince George's County who says all the politically-correct things. But the business-as-usual group, more interested in power than ideology, disagrees. Insider types like this familiar lawyer who was elected along with the outgoing Democratic governor. He really wants the top job now, and he has friends all over the state.

Not many professional Democrats are endorsing the third candidate, a nice-enough person to be sure but one whose rhetoric seems, well, a little radical for poky old Maryland.

There's a fourth candidate too, but his chances seem pretty hopeless. The smart money's on the first two men.

This pre-primary snapshot's still fun to look at, although it's a little grainy and faded, having been taken in the early summer of 1966. Millard Tawes was still governor then, and future Del. Leslie Hutchinson was only four years old.

The four principals that year were, of course, Congressman-at-large Carlton Sickles of Prince George's; Attorney General Thomas Finan; George Mahoney, whose ''Your Home Is Your Castle'' slogan was perceived as implicitly racist; and Clarence Miles, a prominent Baltimore lawyer who hoped Maryland was ready to elect a non-politician.

Senators Dan Brewster and Joseph Tydings preferred Congressman Sickles, as did The Sun, the Washington Post and other fountains of enlightened opinion. Most garden-variety politicians preferred Finan. Mahoney got some endorsements from conservative Democrats, especially those who had backed George Wallace for president two years before.

Miles got a lot of nonbinding hot air about what a fine gentleman he was.

The results that September 13: Mahoney over Sickles, 148,446 to 146,507. (The state wide margin of victory was Mahoney's 2,236-vote edge in Baltimore.) Finan trailed with 106,056 votes, Miles with 42,304.

Enlightened opinion, again represented by the senators and the major newspapers, recoiled in horror from Mahoney and soon helped elect Spiro T. Agnew, the Republican nominee, governor in November.

The resemblance of the 1966 Democratic primary to the one shaping up for this September is entertaining, but also superficial in a number of ways.

Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening hasn't already been elected statewide, as had Sickles, and he doesn't have the same lock on enlightened opinion. (Enlightened opinion, for that matter, is a lot harder to identify this year.)

Lt. Gov. Mickey Steinberg has some of Finan's problems, in that a cadre of devoted old political friends probably isn't enough to win an election with, but has added others of his own as well. Finan had the support of the outgoing governor, Millard Tawes, but the departing William Donald Schaefer has no use for Mr. Steinberg.

The liberal views of State Senator Mary Boergers aren't as radical today as Mahoney's conservative views were in 1966, but they still work against her being taken seriously by the professionals -- just as Mahoney's did then.

And if she were to prevail in the primary, her victory would be likely to have the same result in the general election as did Mahoney's. Maryland only elects Republican governors after Democrats tear themselves to shreds.

There is no Clarence Miles in the 1994 lineup, which is a pity; the late gentleman might be electable this year, given the competition.

This year's fourth candidate, American Joe Miedusiewski, is the only Democratic candidate with a populist, working-folks theme to his campaign.

The poison of racism has ebbed from Maryland politics since 1966, but populism still appeals to people who are just plain angry -- about taxes, about crime, about government inefficiency.

Are there enough such people in Maryland to win a Democratic primary in 1994? Mr. Miedusiewski is guessing there are, and he could be right, but my hunch is that voter anger won't become a major factor until the general election. These days, the angriest Democrats either don't vote in primaries, or switch parties.

It's sad, in retrospect, that Kurt Schmoke decided to sit out this election. As mayor of Baltimore, he continues to inch toward common-sense solutions that defy time-honored Democratic doctrine. As a candidate for governor, he might have come up with some constructive surprises.

Besides, if he were in the picture when the snapshots are taken of this summer's primary campaign, there would be a lot less chance of anyone confusing this election with that other one back in 1966.

4( Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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