Accusations hurt credibility of candidate Sauerbrey

July 21, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

THE PHONE'S gone dead and the mail carrier's wilted in the heat. All lines of communication have been shut down. Nothing else explains the silence from David R. Blumberg, who said he would contact me the moment Ellen Sauerbrey admitted she went off the arithmetical deep end about the election for governor of Maryland four years ago.

Blumberg, chairman of Baltimore's Republican Party and longtime GOP voice across the state, called here last December with a voice full of diplomacy and grace.

"Would you sit down and talk with Ellen?" he asked.

Normally, such a request is redundant. I talk to politicians all the time. Ellen Sauerbrey's a politician who came within an eyelash of becoming governor of Maryland. Why shouldn't I talk to her?

But Blumberg felt, with some justification, that bad blood existed between Sauerbrey and me, owing to certain uncomfortable facts I'd felt the need to mention in this newspaper, along with a certain tone of contempt and ridicule, to wit:

Sauerbrey stretched all bounds of reasonable political rhetoric when she publicly charged there were 50,000 illegal votes cast against her in her last race for governor, and again when she unblushingly amended that figure to "only" 14,000 illegal votes.

She did it again when she said 4,774 prison inmates somehow voted against her, and again when she later amended that total to 10 prison inmates voting.

She did it again when she talked of "hundreds" of dead people miraculously casting votes, and again when she later muttered that maybe it was only a handful of the dearly departed voting.

And she did it again when she talked of 49,000 incorrect addresses listed as part of a massive voter fraud, and again when she later amended that figure to 4,300.

"Of course I'll talk to her," I told Blumberg last December. "The moment she admits that she lied about the last election, I'll be happy to talk to her. Because, until she admits this, I don't see where anything she says could have any credibility."

"I understand," said Blumberg. "I'll get back to you."

But, except for a follow-up letter a few days after we talked -- "I'll report back after I broach subject with her," Blumberg wrote here on Dec. 18 -- he hasn't. And the issue of Sauerbrey and her wild, unapologetic charges about the last election have never been settled. She admits nothing, and apologizes for nothing. Thus, it's no longer about the last election; it's about her truthfulness, and her accountability. It isn't about Sauerbrey talking to me or any other reporter. It's about all voters wondering about her ability to tell the truth.

Four years ago, Sauerbrey's frustrations were understandable. Having been massively outspent in a state heavily Democratic, having been underrated by both Helen Bentley and then Parris Glendening, she nearly pulled off the upset of a generation, first defeating Bentley in the Republican primary and then losing to Glendening by a mere 6,000 votes.

She could have been a hero who crossed all party lines, the gallant underdog who proves that hard work and a dramatic, heartfelt issue count more than campaign spending and political wheeling and dealing.

But she couldn't let it go. Instead of the gracious loser, we had the carping accuser, the mongrel refusing to release the last tattered shreds of a lost political banner. Then, several days ago, as she rushed toward another gubernatorial showdown, Sauerbrey met with editors and political reporters at the Washington Post, where the following dialogue occurred:

Post: "Take us back to the last election. Do you still think you won that?"

Sauerbrey: "I think it's irrelevant."

Excuse me? Sauerbrey then vaguely blamed Baltimore City for "problems," which she said have been addressed by "new equipment."

And then the subject was changed.

Well, all denials to the contrary, the last election is not "irrelevant." What Sauerbrey issued, in its aftermath, was a political blood libel, accusing her opponents of stealing the democratic process.

She had all sorts of time to prove her allegations, or drop them, or apologize for them and blame them on the emotions of the moment. Instead, she took them all the way to court -- where they were thrown in her face.

"What [Sauerbrey] did," Bruce Marcus, an attorney representing Glendening, said that day in court, "was take voting records and put them in a computer. If names matched, they claimed these were disenfranchised people."

Thus, among the names that surfaced were: Stephen Sachs, Robert Murphy and Richard Bennett. Those names are not exactly unknown in Maryland political circles. We have a former Maryland attorney general named Stephen Sachs; a former Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals named Robert Murphy and a fellow named Richard Bennett -- who happens to be Sauerbrey's current running mate.

In court, neither Sauerbrey nor her attorneys mentioned any of her previous allegations. They were too preposterous to bring up, and the case went away.

Only, four years later, her charges haven't. She refuses to admit she lost, refuses to admit she manipulated the truth, refuses to admit she libeled in the grand manner.

And maybe that's the reason David R. Blumberg has never gotten back to me.

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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