It's Over, but They're Still Throwing Haymakers

November 20, 1994|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Symbolism oft-times is every bit as important as reality in the political world.

This past week, we saw two symbols displayed by Maryland's governor-elect and its almost-governor-elect that illustrate how easy it is for a damaging impression to sear its way into public memory.

Symbol No. 1 was put on display by the 5,405-vote governor-elect, Parris N. Glendening. The headlines said it all: ''Glendening Picks Wife As a Transition Chief'' (Washington Post); ''Glendening's wife to lead transition'' (The Sun).

With the stories came photos of Frances Anne Hughes Glendening at the podium leading the press conference and her husband, the ostensible governor-to-be, playing second-banana.

Is this the beginning of a new soap opera, ''Hillary II''?

The intense public dislike for the policy-making role of President Clinton's wife should have sounded warning signals to Mr. Glendening that voters aren't in the mood to tolerate another spouse-as-unelected-leader.

And yet there was Frances Anne Glendening heading the transition team. She now has the clout to influence hundreds of appointments, policy priorities and government reorganizations.

If you want a job, talk to Frances Anne. If you want to influence decisions, see Frances Anne. She is in position to grab headlines, turning her spouse into a supporting actor.

It was Mr. Glendening's second big personnel blunder this year. The first was the selection of a running mate, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Guess who led the running-mate selection team? None other than the spouse-elect.

The image the public embeds in its consciousness of the new governor will be framed by his early actions. If Frances Anne is the dominant figure of the next few months, where does that leave Parris? He was elected governor, yet she seems to be making the big decisions.

A further complication could develop after the transition work is completed. Will Mrs. Glendening vanish from the Annapolis scene and resume her career at the Federal Election Commission?

Or will Mrs. Glendening become the Dragon Lady of this administration, the power behind the throne, the real decision-maker?

That's the kind of potentially dangerous situation Mr. Glendening may have generated. Given the clear example of the nation's Hillary hatred, it was an awkward situation he could have avoided. Coming off a win of microscopic proportions, it was the wrong way to begin.

Not to be outdone, the almost-governor-elect, Ellen Sauerbrey, put on a display of sour grapes that showed the darker side of her campaign. She didn't simply contest absentee ballots, she and her fanatical followers trampled on the rights of defenseless citizens.

They went after the lame, the halt and the blind. There was an assumption among Sauerbrey supporters that any nursing-home resident (except in well-to-do homes) was too feeble or mentally foggy to vote. They planted wild allegations of grand conspiracies by Democrats to coerce these elderly into voting for Mr. Glendening.

One off-duty police officer used his badge to try to force his way into a nursing home to check out a ''tip'' (probably from Oliver Stone) that Alzheimer's patients were conned into voting Democratic.

To them, it was a matter of Democrats stealing the election. Even Mrs. Sauerbrey's top spokesman said so. The problem is, they don't have any proof. But that hasn't stopped them from trying to spread the Big Lie.

''It was a fraudulent election,'' said the GOP state party chairman. Her proof? ''This is what we've heard.'' From whom?

The candidate herself deplored the lack of a ''fair and honest election'' in which ''the process was tampered with.'' Proof? None so far.

The Republicans also went after poor blacks. All sorts of shenanigans were alleged -- with no supporting documents. They want to check every single voter card signature against the file signature in certain black precincts. They just can't believe Mrs. Sauerbrey would lose by margins of 50-1 or worse.

There's an underlying assumption that poor blacks were so gullible they had been corrupted into voting for Mr. Glendening. Never mind that Mrs. Sauerbrey made zero effort to win their votes, never visited, never sent workers, never offered words of encouragement. Her campaign was hostile to the urban poor.

Given those circumstances, the only surprise was that Mrs. Sauerbrey didn't lose by a bigger margin in those precincts.

The Sauerbrey troopers didn't mind impugning the honesty and work of civic-minded workers at election boards, either. Or trying to disenfranchise thousands of well-meaning voters. It was win-at-any-cost -- the voter be damned.

Wrote a Republican cab driver who volunteered on election night, ''If this is the way she would have behaved in office, I'm glad Ellen Sauerbrey didn't win.''

Said a top GOP election official in Montgomery County: ''As a Republican, I'm appalled. The Republican Party is the party of individual rights and they're trying to take people's rights away. It makes me think they're for people's individual rights only as long as those people are for them.''

Mrs. Sauerbrey's sour-grapes tantrum spoiled what had been a crusade of high-minded beliefs. In the past week, principles were shelved. The end justified the means -- do anything to change the election results.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun. His column appears here each Sunday.

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