Rehrmann bid picking up speed She's sharpening criticism of governor

Campaign 1998

September 21, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Lisa Respers contributed to this article.

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann ventures forth in her quest to be governor of Maryland with a problem worse than being relatively anonymous.

Some voters can't even locate her county.

"Northwest of Baltimore, isn't it?" asked a man from Prince George's County as he watched her campaign at a picnic near the Civil War battlefield of Antietam.

Other public officials from Harford find such moments somewhat vexing, but the 52-year-old Rehrmann smiled as if to say, "They'll know me soon enough."

Building name recognition is a part of every campaign, she said as she moved from bull roast to ballpark to beach in search of Marylanders who want a change in State House leadership.

A year remains before the September 1998 Democratic primary, but Rehrmann has quickened the pace of her campaign and sharpened her critique of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, her prime opponent.

Glendening, she said, has mishandled everything from public school financing to prisons and the recent fish kills in waterways adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay. She will not issue detailed policy papers for some time, but the broad base of her challenge is her contention that she would be a better leader -- more focused, more effective and more honest.

What she sees as Glendening's hypocritical position on gambling offers a crystallization of her complaint with the incumbent, who tolerates wagering of all sorts throughout the state but refuses to consider slot machines or casinos.

"We're wheeling Lotto machines into the nursing homes," she said -- a practice begun by the State Lottery Agency and then discontinued this summer. She said the governor's opposition to gambling simply does not ring true.

"We have his anti-gambling mantra, but there he was, as the Prince George's County executive, with casinos flourishing, pictures of him getting check after check for charitable organizations. He talks with Mayor [Kurt L.] Schmoke about funding education with slots -- and then he says, 'I never said that.' Right."

But Rehrmann knows her broadsides and her record in Harford County -- which lies northeast of Baltimore, of course -- won't matter if people don't know who she is.

So, on weekends in particular, she looks for places to introduce herself. On a recent three-day swing, with a Sun reporter following, she hit a Civil War battle re-enactment at Antietam; a Maryland Chamber of Commerce crab feast at Kurtz's Beach in Anne Arundel County; the Washington Redskins football game -- which she left after 30 minutes to get to a small fund-raiser in Baltimore County; and a labor union convention in Ocean City.

At a bull roast near the battle re-enactment, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer introduced her to a small group of picnickers.

JTC "She's the best county executive in Maryland," he said, "a real pro-business lady."

But then Schaefer, who was getting an award that day for his effort to preserve the battlefields, moved away, and she was on her own.

Vague Glendening concerns

She met Hagerstown resident Ben Rubin, who seemed to be in the market for a new governor.

"I could be," he said, somewhat warily. "I'm a Democrat, but [Glendening] just hasn't worked out." Rubin was unable or unwilling to specify what has moved him away from the Democratic incumbent for whom he voted in 1994. Poll takers report unhappiness with Glendening but, as with Rubin, respondents have been vague about their concerns.

Rehrmann wrote down Rubin's name when he agreed to introduce her to his neighbors and perhaps to help her campaign in Hagerstown. Such contacts are collected and, at the end of these forays, entered into a computer for future reference.

The candidate knows she must play on a larger stage as well -- find ways to command attention from reporters anxious to hear her lambaste her opponent. She knows she could seem shrill as she takes positions designed to provide the visibility she needs.

"I'm just saying what I would do if I were governor," she said.

If there is risk in criticism, she appears to be a risk-taker.

"We have a corrections system that's about ready to blow," she said during an interview in Ocean City. "We're out of beds in the maximum security prisons." And she said Glendening has been too insulated from corrections officials as governor -- held out of the information flow, she thinks, by barriers of bureaucrats, Cabinet secretaries, deputy Cabinet secretaries and others.

Asked to comment on the governor's handling of the public health crisis caused by the microbe Pfiesteria piscicida, she questioned the wisdom of a gubernatorial lunch designed to restore confidence in Chesapeake Bay seafood.

"The governor ate fish and a short time later closed another river," she said. "He's saying everything is fine, and then we have another waterway, another problem. It's a leadership issue, staying on top of things -- not going down for a photo op."

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