Decision strands Schmoke, Curry Two must find way back to Glendening in general election

August 11, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr.and JoAnna Daemmrich | William F. Zorzi Jr.and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Eileen M. Rehrmann's abrupt withdrawal from the governor's race yesterday stranded her two most visible supporters -- Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry -- forcing them to make peace with the man they have assailed repeatedly.

Schmoke and Curry, the state's leading African-American politicians, had gone out on a limb to back Rehrmann, a white suburban county executive, in her challenge to incumbent Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary. Their endorsements gave her candidacy immediate momentum and credibility -- but in the end, added little to her campaign's ability to sustain itself.

In the wake of Rehrmann's withdrawal, Schmoke and Curry are in the delicate position of having to negotiate a course back to Glendening's side in the general election. Both must continue to govern two overwhelmingly Democratic jurisdictions, where most of the local leaders and state legislators had lined up behind Glendening.

"A leader can only be a leader as long as he has followers," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat and Glendening supporter. "All elected officialdom is backing the governor, which left them all alone, like a jackass in a hailstorm, with nowhere to go, except to stand there and take the hail."

For Schmoke and Curry, the damage is survivable -- partic- ularly if they unite behind Glendening and turn out the vote in November against the likely Republican nominee, Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Political observers agree that Schmoke and Curry may have to suffer some political indignities and slights from Glendening -- such as not getting phone calls returned right away or not being invited to gubernatorial functions -- but that ultimately the city and Prince George's County would continue to fare well.

Glendening counts those two areas as key among his base -- they are two of only three of the state's 24 jurisdictions that he carried in 1994 -- and he is unlikely to turn his back on them to settle a political score.

The collapse of the Rehrmann campaign is clearly a blow to Larry S. Gibson, the key political adviser to both Schmoke and Curry and Rehrmann's campaign manager and strategist. It was Gibson who orchestrated the endorsements of Rehrmann by Schmoke and Curry -- and had put his two top candidates at war with an incumbent governor of their own party.

At City Hall, Schmoke gamely admitted that he had miscalculated. Though he stopped short of pledging his support for Glendening, he struck a conciliatory tone.

"Obviously, I'll have to pay some political price," said Schmoke, who had called Glendening's integrity into question over an alleged commitment on slot machine gambling. "It's doubtful that I will be invited to the State House for any dinner or that I'll be on the top list of political favorites for a while."

Glendening's aides seemed ready to accept an olive branch.

"It's not unusual for politicians to have disagreements," said John T. Willis, Maryland's secretary of state and Glendening's top political strategist. "History is replete with examples of foes becoming allies and allies becoming foes."

Indeed, Gibson said he was not concerned with retribution from the governor -- toward himself, Schmoke or Curry. "We're all big boys and can handle ourselves," he said. "The day you start making your decisions out of fear, you should get out of politics."

As for the campaign itself, Schmoke acknowledged that Rehrmann simply never caught on. Given the strong economy and Glendening's appointments of more women and African-Americans, few voters in Prince George's or Baltimore seemed willing to look closely at the unfamiliar Harford County executive.

The mayor also conceded that he had overestimated enthusiasm for the cornerstone of Rehrmann's campaign -- a proposal to legalize slot machines at the state's three horse-racing tracks. "It wasn't a significant enough issue for them [voters] to decide who should be their governor," he acknowledged.

For his part, Curry had attacked Glendening -- his predecessor as Prince George's executive -- for leaving him with a $100 million-plus deficit and for not giving the county more in state education funds.

"I think it hurt them both in terms of their credibility, in the sense that they're both perceived as letting personal petulance take precedence over the welfare of the jurisdictions that they represent," Miller said of Schmoke and Curry. "And I believe that opinion is unanimous."

As for Gibson, Miller said he would survive. "He's a political campaign manager and in that game, you win some and you lose some," he said.

And Schmoke, who has long had his eye on a seat in the U.S. Senate, tried to play down the potential repercussions for his own political ambitions.

Nevertheless, he said he would attempt to persuade Glendening to at least permit Baltimore to put the question of legalizing slot machines at the Pimlico Race Course to the voters. "What I'm trying to get him to do, at some point, if he is re-elected, is to simply allow a local referendum. That's basically all I can ask," he said, acknowledging that, for now, he has little leverage.

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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