Key to politics is blaming someone else

April 11, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In the thrilling business of these upcoming elections for high office in the city of Baltimore, which has already roused the voting public to such a feverish state that several savvy political insiders have called this newspaper to declare, "Election? What election?", we now have the appearance of many outstanding candidates reminding us of the famous First Law of All Life, to wit:

Q: What do you do when something goes wrong?

A: Find somebody to blame.

Take this Mary Pat Clarke, for example, who wants to be mayor but currently finds herself criticized by the current mayor's political genius, Larry Gibson, for failing to file updated campaign finance reports.

This is a violation of such vast repercussions that it might cause outrage in maybe 14 voters in the entire city, but which nonetheless forces Clarke to say, in effect, "Us? Us? What about them and their housing scandal?"

At which point there arrived much embarrassment along all corridors of City Hall. The embarrassment arrived because others running for high office -- Joseph DiBlasi, Vera P. Hall, Lawrence A. Bell III, all of whom are running for City Council president -- suddenly discovered, by reading this newspaper, that they have committed the same finance report gaffe. Then -- how do you like this? -- came the great big news that many of the 18 current members of the City Council made the same mistake, failing to file timely reports on donations and expenditures.

Their response? It's the state's fault. First Law of All Life. The state never informed them they should file these reports. Or it's some underling's fault, some hapless, defenseless shnook who should have done it but didn't. First Law: Blame somebody else.

Not everyone bought such a defense, however, and so we were all treated to the spectacle of those such as Councilwoman Sheila Dixon of West Baltimore. She filed her reports on time. Thus, she self-righteously told The Sun's reporters, "We have to be on top of this as well as everything else we're involved in because of the public trust issue."

This, from a woman whose last big contribution to grace in this city came during a racially charged hearing on legislative redistricting a few years back, when she removed her shoe and screeched at white council members, "The shoe is on the other foot now."

Poor Dixon. She had nobody else to blame for this miserable outburst of hers, because she'd made it right out there where everybody in town could hear exactly who said it.

But these other City Hall people: They were late filing, yeah, and it's probably no big deal, certainly not big enough to swing an election, but get rid of the blame anyway. That's always the rule.

Take this governor of ours, Parris Glendening. When caught grabbing at early pension money, he immediately said he didn't write the pension legislation, blame some other guy, whose name most of us never previously heard. And this guy, named Knapp, catches some flak but still gets appointed state personnel secretary.

Or, for that matter, take the mayor of Baltimore. Kurt L. Schmoke is master of his domain, but only to the extent he wishes to claim. There's trouble in public housing? Let Danny Henson take the heat. The trouble actually started before Henson arrived? Get rid of the guy who preceded him. Which the mayor did, but not until public housing was in such decay that thousands were about to find themselves in the street in the middle of a winter.

Find somebody to blame: It's a beautiful tactic. The schools are bad? Get rid of that guy Hunter and bring in this fellow Amprey. Schools still bad? Let's talk about it after the elections.

Eight years ago, when he first ran for mayor, Schmoke ran against incumbent Clarence Du Burns, who was filling out the last year of William Donald Schaefer's final term. It was so widely assumed that Burns had no chance against the rising star Schmoke that Burns found himself quickly deserted by almost everyone around him. Thus, the thinking became clear: Du knows the city, but Kurt will bring really brilliant people into city government.

He hasn't. He's brought in a bunch of people who have been dismal, except for this: When something goes wrong, it isn't perceived as the mayor's fault. It's all those disappointing folks around him. Blame them. It's the famous First Law of All Life.

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