Rehrmann's campaign gets attention in Laurel Posters: The candidate gained instant name recognition, but the effect was short-lived and expensive.

The Political Game

May 12, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

LARRY S. GIBSON'S obsession with campaign signs might have finally caught up with him.

Gibson, the Baltimore political guru who is managing Eileen M. Rehrmann's bid for governor, got word last week that the campaign was being fined $41,000 by the city of Laurel because his candidate's placards were posted illegally on municipal property.

In a May 6 certified letter, Laurel's Department of Development Management notified Gibson that Rehrmann's blue and orange campaign posters had been plastered all over Laurel on April 28, in violation of local law.

Baltimore was subjected to the same treatment two days earlier. But in the city, where Gibson's good friend, Kurt L. Schmoke, is mayor, illegally posted signs are generally ignored in election years.

That is clearly not the case in Laurel -- the home turf of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who's being challenged by Rehrmann, among others, in the Democratic primary.

After informing the Friends of Eileen Rehrmann campaign committee by phone that the signs had to be removed immediately, Laurel inspectors began taking them down the day they went up.

It took four inspectors 21 man-hours over two days to yank down 164 signs, at an expense to the city of $652.96.

When officials phoned the Rehrmann campaign, however, they apparently could not get a return call, according to a letter to Gibson from Jerry P. Hansen, development management's deputy director for permits and code enforcement.

"With this in mind, it appears that Friends of Eileen Rehrmann did not wish to cooperate in any manner with the City of Laurel to resolve the illegal sign issue," Hansen concluded.

"Therefore, enclosed please find a violation notice for your illegally posted signs."

The way city officials figure it, each of those 164 posters constituted a violation, which carries a $250 penalty per offense. The letter's punch line was that the city wanted $41,652.96, the cost of the labor, plus the fine.

Mayor Frank P. Casula, a Democrat who served 20 years in the Prince George's County Council, said he supported his department's action.

"You don't do business like that," said Casula, who is in his second term as mayor. "That's really irresponsible campaigning in my book."

Gibson chalked it up to the enthusiasm of the campaign, conceding that Rehrmann supporters got a little carried away.

"I'm a sign putter-upper, but this was a little excessive, even by my standards," Gibson said. "Man, they plastered the place. If it was vertical, they put a sign up on it."

In his letter, Hansen told Gibson that "in the spirit of cooperation," city officials would be willing to waive the $41,000 fine, if the campaign sent them a check for the $652.96.

An uncharacteristically contrite Gibson says he's planning to cut the check.

"If they took them down and incurred a cost, of course I'm going to pay it," he said. "We regret the inconvenience to the city."

No hard feelings about the Bush endorsement

Maryland Democrats gathered last night in Baltimore to pay homage to a diverse cast of characters, all in the spirit of unity and, of course, raising money.

The state party, with supporters of Glendening helping to orchestrate the event, honored former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the man who endorsed Republican George Bush over Bill Clinton for president.

Glendening has been courting Schaefer for his support in the zTC Democratic primary. Since Schaefer loyalist Lainy LeBow-Sachs was co-chair of the event again this year, honoring the former chief executive seemed nearly inevitable.

Also honored were Sayra Wells Meyerhoff, one of the founders of Harriet's List, the political action committee that supports Democratic women candidates favoring abortion rights; and Glenard S. Middleton Sr., executive director of Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The party also paid tribute to Carlton R. Sickles, the former Prince George's County congressman who narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for governor in 1966 in a bloody eight-man race.

That honor seemed particularly ironic, given this year's primary challenges to Glendening, another Prince Georgian, and the governor's potential fight in November against Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the likely GOP nominee. The ugliness of the 1966 Democratic primary was a key factor in putting Republican Spiro T. Agnew on the second floor of the Maryland State House.

Pub Date: 5/12/98

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