Steinberg vs. Glendening: Charges fly in TV ads CAMPAIGN 1994

August 11, 1994|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

With less than five weeks to go before Maryland's primary election, the two most heavily bankrolled Democratic candidates for governor are squaring off with dueling television ads.

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg unleased two spots Tuesday on Baltimore stations laying into Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening's fiscal management capabilities.

Just two days later, Mr. Glendening, the Democratic front-runner, is countering with a response warning voters not to be "misled by false, negative ads."

The Glendening spot, which is scheduled to begin airing today, also takes a shot at Mr. Steinberg, linking him to his boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and the cuts in state aid to local jurisdictions that the Schaefer administration carried out during Maryland's budget crisis.

The advertising war marks a point in the primary race in which Mr. Steinberg -- who has fallen from first to fourth place in the polls -- has begun to make his long-expected move on Mr. Glendening by taking his message directly to the voters through a TV blitz.

The Steinberg ads cite the nearly $1 billion budget shortfall that awaits the next governor and then questions Mr. Glendening's fiscal record in Prince George's County, as well as his proposed $300 million in new state spending, in light of the state's looming crisis.

"You can't cut a $900 million deficit by adding $300 million to it," one ad states.

The other cites an independent report that ranked Prince George's County 49th out of 50 of the nation's top counties, defined as those with the most revenue. That spot states that Mr. Glendening as county executive "racked up a $71 million deficit -- the worst in the region," leaving viewers with the impression that is the case now.

In fact, Prince George's County enjoys a $38 million budget surplus this year. The deficit referred to in the Steinberg ad -- actually $78.3 million -- was for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1992.

The Glendening campaign cried foul. "During the recession . . . the county did incur a short-term deficit, but they put together a plan to address it, which was favorably received in the financial community, and they paid the deficit off a year ahead of schedule," said David Seldin, Mr. Glendening's campaign press secretary.

As for the independent report, that ranking was released in the summer of 1993 as part of an annual special edition of City & State, a now defunct magazine that reported on the business of government.

Rodd Zolkos, a former staffer at the publication who dealt with the special report, said, "These rankings really were a snapshot of a jurisdiction's financial condition at a given point in time."

Joe Trippi, of Trippi, McMahon & Squier, the media consultants who produced the Steinberg spots, denied that the new ads were "negative," and said they were designed to present the facts about Mr. Glendening. "We threw a high, fast one inside," said Mr. Trippi, who has a reputation of running aggressive political advertising campaigns. "It was a brush-back pitch, and that's all. They shouldn't be claiming that 'negative' stuff. We weren't trying to bean them. If we were trying to bean them, they'd know it."

The new Glendening ad attacks "irresponsible" state budget cuts "by the Schaefer-Steinberg administration" that caused "a financial crisis for the counties."

Actually, by the time the state's cuts in local aid programs were implemented in the fall of 1992, Mr. Schaefer had stopped speaking at all to Mr. Steinberg -- the result of the lieutenant governor refusing to support his boss' proposal for $800 million in new taxes the year before.

Mr. Seldin responded by saying, "He cashed the paychecks, didn't he? The guy . . . ought to be held accountable for what the administration did over the last four years."

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