Boergers uses feminist platform to step up

August 18, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

STATE SEN. Mary H. Boergers considers herself everybody's second choice for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

Among the Democratic candidates, polls show Ms. Boergers in a statistical third-place tie with Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg. She sees front-runner Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening as stuck and jogging in place. And she's convinced that she can leapfrog over state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, who's now in second place in the polls, if only she can muster some media attention in the Baltimore market.

Wait just a minute. Something's wrong with that scenario. For one thing, Ms. Boergers is barely known outside her Rockville legislative district, recognized by only 3 percent of Maryland's voters.

For another, during her 13 years in the General Assembly, she's antagonized more than her share of legislators, especially with her screed against Del. John S. Arnick during his confirmation hearing for a Baltimore County District Court judgeship. (The state Senate voted not to confirm the Dundalk Democrat amid allegations that he had made vulgar and sexist comments about women during a dinner meeting with two female lobbyists.) Her drive and her ambition may be among her strengths, but they're also her weaknesses.

As if that weren't enough, Ms. Boergers is running what appears to be a narrow campaign designed to attract the feminist vote. She's assembled a new-girl ticket with former state lawmaker Barbara Kreamer of Harford County as her running mate. It's Maryland's first all-female ticket.

It may be true that miracles happen at Lourdes but rarely do they occur in Maryland politics. In some states, Ms. Boergers' record of standoffish independence and tough stands on women's issues might be a badge of honor. Not here.

The former history teacher, two-term state delegate and first-term senator is articulate and bright, busy honing in on cutting-edge issues such as the high-speed train proposed to link Baltimore and Washington as well as stimulate economic development.

Ms. Boergers, who was a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, is convinced that she can win the general election if only she can get by the primary. She thinks she could beat the Republican nominee by attracting pro-choice Republicans, the Montgomery County vote and the independent vote.

But the primary is first. To meet that challenge, she has a jerry-built political agenda that's as intricate as an artichoke, each layer punctuated with a mighty suspicious "IF."

For example, in Prince George's County, there are two blacks -- lawyer Wayne K. Curry and state Sen. Beatrice P. Tignor -- and Sue V. Mills, a white county council member who gained prominence as a busing opponent, running to succeed Mr. Glendening as county executive. And there is considerable pressure on Mr. Glendening to endorse Mr. Curry.

By Ms. Boergers' reckoning, such a move by Mr. Glendening would split the black vote, throwing Ms. Mills' white support to Ms. Boergers.

Moreover, there are rumblings that Prince George's black leaders fear Mr. Glendening's close alliance with Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke puts them and the county as second ary concerns, politically speaking.

If Mr. Glendening were to lose much of the Prince George's County black vote, it would probably go to the other Washington-area Democratic candidate, Ms. Boergers.

A key liability is her narrow political base. There is none beyond her 17th legislative district and the subscribers to EMILY's List, a feminist group that raises money for liberal Democratic women candidates.

So in her home territory of Montgomery County, Ms. Boergers will win the feminist vote, Mr. Glendening will gather the liberal and egghead vote and American Joe will collect the few blue-collar votes.

In Baltimore, where Ms. Boergers is barely known among the general public, she's likely to get some of the feminist vote. However, the old boy network is eager to see her fail in retaliation for blocking Mr. Arnick's judgeship.

As the only woman among the Democratic candidates, the early arithmetic tilted to Ms. Boergers winning the primary. But when the field dwindled to three, the statistical probabilities of her winning diminished, too.

Despite the uncertainty, Ms. Boergers trudges through the long campaign days, a burble of optimism and good humor.

Ms. Boergers allots part of every day to her one-on-one telephone campaign to personally solicit campaign funds. So far, she's raised more than $500,000 and is one of three gubernatorial candidates who have qualified to receive and are accepting public money to help finance their primary campaigns. The other two are Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey and Mr. Miedusiewski.

Though a commited outsider -- even though she's on the inside -- Ms. Boergers talks with convincing intensity about working with the legislature, of compromise, of rebuilding the feckless state Democratic Party into the mean machine that it once was.

That's a bold assignment for someone who calls herself everybody's number two.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics from Owings Mills.

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