The rift between Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. Parris N. Glendening widened yesterday -- nearly to the breaking point, according to the mayor -- after the governor made good on a threat to freeze $5.9 million in state aid to city schools.
Saying he would seek a court injunction to free the money, Schmoke lashed out at Glendening during his weekly news briefing and suggested with uncharacteristic anger that his political alliance with the governor had frayed significantly.
"It seems to me from a political point of view [that] the governor has decided he can just ignore his friends, or assume that his friends will always be with him come hell or high water," said Schmoke, whose Democratic political machine helped put Glendening into office in 1994.
Glendening initially was angered by reports of Schmoke's comments, according to aides, but later in the day was measured in his response during an interview, brushing off the significance of the mayor's political threats.
"It's a warm August and tempers flare a bit, but we've worked together in the past and we'll work together in the future," he said. "I'm more concerned about the welfare of the children than I am about the politics of this."
In withholding the $5.9 million, Glendening kept his promise to freeze the money if Schmoke did not enter into an agreement for a city-state partnership to run city schools. The legislature withheld another $24 million in state aid to city schools in this year's budget, with the same provision.
During his news conference, Schmoke mused aloud that Glendening must think "I've got no place [else] to go" with the considerable political and financial support his organization can offer a candidate.
"He's willing to go as far as hurting programs for children in order to take care of some other political mission of his," the mayor said. "That may be his thinking. We'll have our own thoughts about this in the future."
Asked if Glendening had burned his bridges with him, Schmoke said: "It's a long way to go between now and 1998 [gubernatorial elections], but there's obviously great strain here now."
Referring to his icy relationship with former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Schmoke said: "I've lived under a situation where the governor didn't like me personally but always cared about the city. I don't recall a time that in order to achieve a policy objective a governor has taken money away from schoolchildren."
Glendening's move was not unexpected. His Department of Budget and Management notified the mayor's office Wednesday -- as the school year is about to begin -- that it was proceeding with plans to withhold $29.9 million of the $430.9 million the city will receive this year from the state for city schools.
Frederick W. Puddester, the state budget secretary, said yesterday that the state is prorating the loss of the $5.9 million -- and the other $24 million -- over the course of the current fiscal year so the city is not hit all at once with a budget shortfall.
Glendening seemed genuinely mystified by Schmoke's reaction.
"I can understand his frustration and anger, but quite honestly, I think he's directing that frustration at the wrong person," the governor said.
Glendening noted that the General Assembly -- and not him -- had restricted $24 million in state aid to city schools, and that he had no choice but to abide by that restriction, which was law. The legislature did so in an effort to force Schmoke toward more accountability in the school system and toward the city-state partnership for running the schools.
As for the $5.9 million over which he did have some control, Glendening pointed out that he has been consistent and clear all along that he would withhold that money from the city if Schmoke did not agree to the partnership.
At Schmoke's urging in late May, Glendening vetoed a bill passed by the legislature this year that would have forced the city to cut administrators' salaries by $5.9 million and spend the savings in the classroom instead.
In winning the veto, Schmoke received the money to spend as he liked, but Glendening said he would withhold the $5.9 million in aid from the current fiscal year if the mayor did not agree to enter into the city-state partnership within 60 days.
That date came and went last month, and while a "conceptual agreement" between the two men was reached for running the schools, no formal agreement was ever struck.
The architect of the legislature's restrictions on the city school aid, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, was taken aback by Schmoke's comments.
"I don't think this governor deserves the kind of treatment he's receiving," Rawlings said. "I think it's regrettable that we're in this state, but I think the mayor can easily move forward to remedy this situation."