Ill state treasurer determined to stay Maurer, struggling with demands of job, says aides assist her

November 29, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,SUN STAFF

These are difficult days for Maryland Treasurer Lucille Maurer, a respected veteran of state government who, at 73, is trying to hold onto her job despite the recurrence of a serious illness.

"The sum and substance is that I have no notion of retiring," Mrs. Maurer said in an interview in her Annapolis office this week.

But the former Montgomery County legislator acknowledges what anyone who has seen her in recent months knows: She is not well and is struggling to keep up with the demands of her $100,000-a-year position.

Her responsibilities include the management and investment of state funds, the sale of state bonds and representing the legislature on the three-member Board of Public Works, which votes on millions of dollars in state contracts each time it meets.

She has been to her office only a handful of times since being hospitalized for a respiratory problem in August. She has missed five of the past seven Public Works meetings and seven of eight "preboard" meetings, where controversial contracts are often screened.

Her doctor says a benign tumor that was pressing on her brain and surgically removed in 1992 has begun to grow back. She says it has affected her speech and her ability to walk, but not her mind.

"Franklin Roosevelt ran the country in a wheelchair for 12 years," she said defiantly.

Mrs. Maurer acknowledged that she has leaned heavily on her staff and that her deputy, Mark Reger, is overseeing day-to-day operations of the office. But she said a courier shuttles paperwork between her office and home, and that she regularly discusses issues with her staff by phone.

"It's not a stroke. It is a neurological problem," she said. "It is a reoccurrence [of the tumor] on a different level."

Mrs. Maurer said that she learned in February the tumor was returning, but her condition noticeably worsened in early August. At the time, her office denied rumors she had suffered a stroke, but did not until now disclose that the tumor had come back.

Since summer, her speech pattern has become more deliberate and often punctuated by long pauses. At a bond sale in October, her first board meeting in more than two months, she was unable to read aloud the numbers on the written bids.

Three weeks ago, she lost her balance while walking at night in the home she shares with her husband, Ely, and tumbled down a flight of stairs. She broke no bones, she said, but was left with lingering aches and pains.

One of her physicians, Dr. Gregory K. Bergey, a neurologist at University of Maryland Medical System, said one effect of the tumor has been seizures, or twitching, in her foot and weakness in her leg. But he said radiation treatments and medication seem to have brought that under control.

"I would expect her to continue to improve over the next six to eight months," Dr. Bergey said of her overall condition.

"I haven't assessed her ability to perform her duties, in part because I expect her to continue to improve," he added. "I don't know what her ultimate plateau will be, but it may be very close to before all this happened. In November, it is a little too early to say."

Mrs. Maurer is so well-liked within the General Assembly -- which, in January, elected her to a third four-year term -- that no one has suggested publicly that she step down. In private conversations, however, her friends and admirers say they worry about her failing health and wish she would not put herself through such an ordeal.

"There continues to be great sympathy for this outstanding legislator and public servant," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat from Prince George's County. "But with the Board of Public Works making unbelievably difficult decisions in these terribly difficult times, we need a full-time treasurer."

Among the issues that have come up for a vote in meetings Mrs. Maurer has missed were a $119 million contract for a company to provide prescription drug services to state employees; a $63 million contract for construction of a new International Terminal at Baltimore-Washington Internation Airport; and hundreds of other contracts, large and small, involving new academic buildings and prisons, sewage treatment facilities and mass transit improvements.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat from Cumberland, said Mrs. Maurer told him that her doctors intend to assess her rehabilitation by Jan. 1 to determine if she should continue.

Meanwhile, at least one potential successor, Del. Richard N. Dixon, a stockbroker and Democrat from Carroll County, is quietly letting colleagues know he is available should a vacancy occur. Mr. Dixon declined to comment for this story.

Mrs. Maurer said she has no plans to step down.

"I want to give him [Speaker Taylor] the benefit of a reassessment, but the sum and substance of it is that the doctors are not going to say that I cannot continue," she said. "I can continue."

State law provides that if the presiding officers of the General Assembly are given written notice that the treasurer is temporarily unable to carry out his or her duties, the chief deputy treasurer will take over, unless the presiding officers choose someone else.

If no such notice is given but the presiding officers make "a formal, written determination of a temporary inability or unavailability of the treasurer," they then may appoint an acting treasurer.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said Mrs. Maurer's absence from public works meetings has forced him to reach accord with state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein on virtually every contract, wetlands permit, settlement or other issue to keep the board from becoming deadlocked, 1-1.

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