Another jolt to Steinberg: Last 2 top aides depart CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

July 09, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Robert Timberg contributed to this article.

And then there were none.

The floundering gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg lost the last two members of its core political team yesterday -- press secretary Dan Walter, who quit, and political director Dennis C. Donaldson, who said he was bowing out to devote time to his own bid for the state Senate.

Yesterday's defections capped a week of turmoil in the campaign of the one-time Democratic front-runner, a week that included the sudden resignation of the campaign manager and an embarrassing last-minute switch in Mr. Steinberg's choice of a running mate.

"The campaign is listing to one side heavily. It needs a repair immediately," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller rTC Jr., a longtime political ally of Mr. Steinberg. "Things that weren't done a year ago and six months ago need to be addressed immediately."

Keith Haller, head of Potomac Survey Research, a Bethesda polling firm, said of Mr. Steinberg's week: "What's happened here is a campaign manager's worst nightmare. Campaign people are just shaking their heads in utter disbelief that something like this could happen."

The always loquacious Mr. Steinberg remained optimistic, saying would have a new campaign manager and press secretary in a few days.

"Next week, we will have a new dynamic team and new direction in place," he said.

"A lot of things concerning the campaign and it's direction . . . should not have been made and could not have been made until we had a lieutenant governor," he said. "I wanted my lieutenant governor to be a full partner."

Mr. Steinberg did not name his running mate until Tuesday, the state deadline. He began that day planning to announce that it would be state Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly of Prince George's County, but had to settle for a fallback candidate, state Sen. James C. Simpson of Southern Maryland, when Mr. O'Reilly begged off.

Then on Thursday, Michael F. Ford, an Annapolis-based political consultant, resigned as campaign manager.

Mr. Ford explained his decision yesterday, saying he had been frustrated both with the mix-up over a running mate and with Mr. Steinberg's micromanagement of the campaign.

"He wants to be into every part of it," Mr. Ford said. "The truth was that competing views made sure that nothing good happened. This way he at least gets the chance to do it his way and that's fine."

Mr. Ford's resignation, along with the departures earlier of several other key campaign aides, prompted Mr. Walter's decision to quit yesterday as press secretary.

"With the departure of some key professional people here, there's no reason to stay on," Mr. Walter said. "The campaign is not functioning well. That's about it."

Mr. Donaldson, the political director, said yesterday that he decided that the demands of running for the state Senate on the Eastern Shore would preclude him from serving as Mr. Steinberg's political director.

"We both agreed that it wasn't feasible to do both," Mr. Donaldson said -- though earlier in the week, the campaign had insisted that Mr. Donaldson would be staying despite his own political plans.

There are just two months left until the Sept. 13 primary. But Mr. Ford said there is still time for Mr. Steinberg to bring on qualified consultants.

"There are many people who can run campaigns," Mr. Ford said.

"The question is who can run this one?"

Frustrated Steinberg loyalists tried to stay upbeat.

"He's cleaned house and he's off and running," said Judith M. Sussman, Mr. Steinberg's paid fund-raiser since March of last year.

State Senator Simpson said he was looking forward to taking the campaign on the road in an August bus tour. "We're going to hit everydamn county, hopefully hit 'em twice," he said.

Mr. Haller predicted that the campaign missteps would lead to other defections.

On Thursday, one of Mr. Steinberg's closest friends, lobbyist-lawyer Alan M. Rifkin, sounded very much like a man poised to jump ship.

Mr. Rifkin praised Mr. Steinberg's chief rival in the Democratic primary, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, a fund-raising luncheon held in Mr. Rifkin's law office.

Mr. Rifkin later explained that the luncheon had been arranged a month ago by one of his partners and that his own warm words did not constitute an endorsement or a political embrace of Mr. Glendening.

But, when asked if he was still supporting Mr. Steinberg, Mr. Rifkin replied, "That's really a personal thing I'd rather keep to myself. I don't know who I'm going to vote for."

Others, such as Senate President Miller, said "Steinberg the candidate" has looked nothing like "Steinberg the elected official," who won praise for his handling of the state's savings and loan crisis and for ushering the legislative package of Gov. William Donald Schaefer through the General Assembly in the first four years of the administration.

Mr. Haller said it is too early to write Mr. Steinberg's obituary.

"You never say never in Democratic politics in Maryland," Mr. Haller said. "Strange things have happened before."

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