Will feud with governor continue? Schmoke and Curry ponder the politics

September 04, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

A dance of reconciliation is under way in Baltimore City and Prince George's County as Democratic leaders decide if their political interests are served better by unity or by feuding with the governor.

Wayne K. Curry, the Prince George's executive, endorsed former Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday for state comptroller, a move designed to give him a voice in Annapolis -- if Curry does not repair his damaged relationship with Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

This week, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, also estranged from the governor, introduced and then awkwardly hugged Glendening at event in Baltimore. But hard feelings between Glendening and the two continue and may not be resolved in time for the fall election.

With their political adviser, Larry S. Gibson, Schmoke and Curry split this year with the governor over promises allegedly broken by Glendening -- endorsing one of his primary challengers, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

Rehrmann's challenge failed, leaving Democrats to ask nervously: What will Kurt and Wayne do now? And what of Gibson, their political adviser who managed Rehrmann's campaign?

The stakes are high. Without Gibson and Schmoke, for example, Glendening might not have had the 90,000-vote majority in Baltimore -- with its African-American majority electorate -- that enabled him to overcome losses in every other part of the state. In 1994, he beat Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, his likely opponent this time, by 5,993 votes out of 1.4 million cast.

This trio of African-American Democratic leaders is not likely to back a Republican. But, if they don't truly work hard for Glendening, his effort will be weakened.

Schmoke's relatively kind remarks about the governor came at the urging of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, who visited Baltimore on Tuesday. But problems remain, Schmoke said. "We have to give it some time," the mayor said.

Curry appears to be as alienated as ever -- and to have found an alternate link to Annapolis.

Yesterday, Curry openly conceded he would like to have Schaefer's backing as one of three members of the state Board of Public Works, with the governor and treasurer. The comptroller does not have authority to bring matters before the board, but the governor needs the comptroller's vote -- leverage Curry hopes he can borrow.

After he endorsed Schaefer, Curry was asked if he would be campaigning for the Democratic ticket, including Glendening.

"That remains to be seen," Curry said coolly. "I believe politics is a reciprocal business."

Both sides in this statewide spat may be waiting, like junior high schoolers at a sock hop, for the other to move. Asked about the lingering animosity yesterday, the Glendening campaign touched on it gingerly.

"It's a time for all Democrats to join together to prepare for the fall election," said spokesman Peter S. Hamm. "We're very hopeful that this party will be 100 percent unified instead of 99 percent unified in the near future."

Hamm characterized Curry's endorsement of Schaefer as "further evidence of strengthening party unity in the state."

A consensus of Democrats holds that Schmoke and Curry have no choice but to find a way to support the ticket, including Glendening.

"I expect the county executive will work for Democrats in the general election from the top of the ticket down," said Del. James W. Hubbard of Prince George's. "It's the only way he can accomplish his objectives in Annapolis."

But yesterday the damaged relations were impossible to miss -- particularly in the comments of the Prince George's executive.

"Politics is a tough business," Curry said. "So a person's word matters a lot."

He said Schaefer has been true to his word throughout his career: "If he tells you something, you can take it to the bank."

The comment appeared to have a double-edge: Both Curry and Schmoke have suggested that with Glendening a verbal promise is not good enough.

So deep is this ill-feeling, said one Democrat that rapprochement will come only if the participants can vent their frustrations. "They need to get in a room and yell at each other," he said.

Some observers believe the real objective in this disagreement is to show who holds the balance of power in Maryland elections -- a goal which could mean that a Republican victory would be an acceptable outcome.

Under this thinking, Democratic office seekers would need no convincing about the power of the African-American vote.

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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