Rehrmann must make case, expose governor

September 07, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

ON THE day Benjamin Cardin handed the governor's race back to Parris Glendening, Eileen Rehrmann picked up her telephone, and out came a series of cliches to numb all of the senses, which I'll spare you for the moment or you'll never bother reading the second paragraph of this newspaper column.

"I'm hearing silence from you," said Rehrmann after several minutes of chat. "Are you OK?"

"This," I replied, "is the best you've got?"

The cliches, I meant. Here is a woman, the Harford County executive, and she's known for a real good record on schools and law enforcement and responsible spending. Here she is, the one Democrat gutsy enough to get into the race against the current governor and stay in it, the one who's now been given new legitimacy by Cardin's withdrawal, and by House Speaker Cas Taylor's withdrawal before that, and she's rolled off 112 consecutive cliches when she ought to be saying, in the most vivid American English, just what makes her so special and the current governor so suspect.

"Go ahead," I tell her for openers. "Make your case."

"We're a ship without a captain," she says.

"Uh-huh," I say.

"Whichever way the tide is going," she says, "that's where [Glendening] goes."


"I believe I can make a difference," she says.

"Uh-huh," I say.

"I care about this state," she says.

" ," I say.

L "I'm hearing silence from you," says Rehrmann. "Are you OK?"

Well, sure, but I'm not the one running for governor. I'm just a critical citizen, wondering why so many Democrats are afraid to run against Glendening.

In a week in which the governor has to be doing handstands over Cardin's decision, let's forget the cliches for the moment, and get a little specific about the troubles with Glendening.

Start with trust. This is a guy who left Prince George's County with shadows behind him, with a county government debt vastly greater than he'd admitted, and a sweetheart pension deal he imagined nobody would discover, and out-of-state money that helped finance his campaign which turned out to be illegal racetrack funds, for which Glendening let the racetrack people take all the heat.

Also, it's about talking out of both sides of his mouth: In the last campaign, Glendening told Baltimoreans how vital the city was to the state. But he was telling folks in Montgomery and Prince George's counties how Baltimore had been getting away with political murder for too long, and how their own time had now arrived to seize power.

On the day he announced the Cleveland Browns were coming to Baltimore - a move he influenced only marginally, but tried to claim credit for - he made everybody feel crummier than we already did. Instead of expressing a little compassion for Cleveland, which was feeling the same heartache Baltimore had known, the governor boasted about what "great fun" it had been to meet secretly and kidnap the Browns. It was like a high school kid bragging about the first time he'd gotten lucky.

Glendening said repeatedly, and loudly, that Maryland couldn't afford a tax decrease. But, after Ellen Sauerbrey nearly beat him on her single issue of a big tax cut, that's exactly what Glendening adopted - a 10 percent reduction, of which nearly half will go to the wealthiest 10 percent of the state's taxpayers.

When it looked as if Ben Cardin was getting serious about challenging him, somebody - and several sources say it was Glendening's people - leaned on a hundred Democrats to send Cardin a letter, urging him to stay out of the race. Cardin is Jewish. All 100 of those urged to sign the letter were Jewish. That isn't politics, it's a pogrom.

Asked about the letter, Cardin refused to utter a syllable. But those around him say he was infuriated.

Not, however, infuriated enough to run. So we're now looking at a Democratic primary of Glendening and Eileen Rehrmann, whose candidacy is already being discounted. Forget her, the insiders say, she's got no name recognition. Already, they've forgotten the candidacy of Ellen Sauerbrey, who was unknown based on an entire career of well-earned obscurity in the Maryland legislature.

But Sauerbrey found an issue. Never mind that it was a bad issue; it struck a chord with a lot of people. Since nobody likes high taxes, it sounds good to say we'll cut them, and never mind what the cuts will mean.

This is what Eileen Rehrmann must find: not only an issue but an issue that sings.

So there came a second conversation with her last week. This time, Rehrmann talked about the need for cooperation between the suburban counties and the city, and her success controlling the rate of growth in burgeoning Harford County, and about the institution of a county drug court where they're trying treatment before imposing prison time.

"I'm more comfortable talking about myself," Rehrmann said, "and not bashing somebody else."

Understood. But, in the coming campaign, she'll have to remind people why there's so much uneasiness with the current governor. Ben Cardin thought about doing it, and Cas Taylor thought about doing it. But then they decided to do it from a safe place.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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