Democratic warhorse defects Steinberg endorses GOP's Sauerbrey in slap at Glendening

September 18, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF nTC Staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

Democrat Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg, the liberal former lieutenant governor and champion of abortion rights, gun control and state-funded stadiums, threw his support yesterday to Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the conservative gubernatorial candidate who opposes all three.

In endorsing Sauerbrey over the incumbent Democrat, Parris N. Glendening, Steinberg reached across all ideological boundaries and dismayed Democratic officials around the state.

He also set off a flurry of pointed responses from Steinberg's Jewish Democratic allies in the Pikesville area, who accused him of abandoning his long-held principles on such issues as abortion and education spending to back the more conservative Sauerbrey.

Steinberg, who lost to Glendening in the 1994 Democratic gubernatorial primary but endorsed him over Sauerbrey in the general election that year, said he had been disappointed with the governor's "lack of integrity."

"I have seen him change positions on critical issues depending on which way the political winds are blowing," Steinberg told reporters gathered on the driveway of his Pikesville house.

"I can tell you that [Sauerbrey] is one of the most honorable and decent people I have had the pleasure to work with."

Unlike four years ago, when she was a surprise winner in the Republican primary and had little time to prepare for her general election race against Glendening, this year Sauerbrey is cultivating support from Democrats such as Steinberg -- and more crossover endorsements are expected.

Former Democratic state officials said yesterday that, after Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann dropped out of the governor's race last month, Sauerbrey telephoned some of her supporters and financial backers -- trying to capitalize on the anti-Glendening sentiment and aggressively pursuing their support.

At the same time, at least one prominent fund-raiser often aligned with Democrats, bakery owner John Paterakis Sr., has been quietly raising money for Sauerbrey's campaign, according sources familiar with his efforts.

While such a trend does not bode well for the governor, it #F remains unclear what Sauerbrey may gain from the endorsement of Steinberg, who has been out of office for four years and whose political career ended unhappily when he blew an early lead and lost badly to Glendening.

A beaming Sauerbrey called Steinberg's endorsement "truly an honor" and suggested she would ask his advice if she becomes governor.

"I'm going to need all the help I can get from people who have been there before and know how government works," she said.

But the Glendening camp dismissed the endorsement by saying Steinberg, a longtime supporter of the horse-racing industry who lobbied briefly on its behalf in Annapolis two years ago, was motivated by his desire to see Maryland legalize slot machines -- something Glendening opposes and Sauerbrey has said she would consider.

Steinberg "has no ideological resemblance to Ellen Sauerbrey whatsoever," said Peter S. Hamm, the Glendening campaign spokesman. "It's absurd on its face. It can only be about slots and casinos."

Steinberg denied that his endorsement had anything to do with gambling, saying that "99 and 44/100ths" of his decision was based on his questions about Glendening's trustworthiness.

Some political insiders who know Steinberg said his defection to the GOP camp was simply a reflection of his personal dislike of Glendening.

Steinberg's endorsement prompted an aggressive counter-attack by six Jewish Democratic officials and candidates from Steinberg's home base in Pikesville, who quickly called their own news conference yesterday to highlight how ill-matched he and Sauerbrey are ideologically.

"Every principle that Mickey Steinberg has stood for, she was on the other side of it," said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Hollinger joined Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, Dels. Samuel I. Rosenberg and Michael J. Finifter, Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Robert A. Zirkin, a Democratic nominee for a House of Delegates seat in November.

Several pointed out that Sauerbrey was strongly anti-abortion during her 16 years in the House of Delegates, at the same time that Steinberg was a leading proponent of abortion rights in the Senate.

The group said they felt compelled to respond to Steinberg because he had been the senior Jewish state official and as such often spoke for that community.

Sauerbrey has spent some time this year trying to connect with )) Jewish voters, a traditionally liberal, Democratic voting bloc.

At his event, Steinberg said he had discussed abortion with Sauerbrey and was satisfied that she would not attempt to cut back on a woman's right to abortion.

"That's not a major issue in this campaign," Steinberg said. "The people have spoken," he added, referring to the 1992 referendum upholding Maryland's abortion law.

One issue that did not come up was Steinberg's vital role in winning state funding for the Camden Yards stadiums complex. As the lieutenant governor under then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Steinberg led the stadium lobbying effort in the General Assembly in 1987.

Sauerbrey voted against the stadium funding in 1987 and has been harshly critical of Glendening's support for using state funds to build the Ravens stadium.

Anne Hubbard, a Sauerbrey spokeswoman, said last night that Steinberg and Sauerbrey "have basically put that [stadium] issue aside. They don't have to agree on it."

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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