Governor supports courts takeover Glendening's stance seen as bid to win support of Schmoke

October 03, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Making what could be a last-ditch effort to repair his fractured relationship with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said last night he supports the mayor's proposal to have the state take over the cost of the circuit courts across Maryland.

The governor's statement came hours after Schmoke, in his first public comments on the matter, said a state court takeover would appeal to Baltimore residents because it would allow the city to commit about $9 million in additional spending to public safety.

"If this transfer of responsibility results in more police in our jurisdictions, then Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and I support this proposal," Glendening said in a statement.

The governor added that he had first supported a state takeover of the court system a decade ago, when he was Prince George's County executive and served as president of the Maryland Association of Counties.

But there was little doubt that the governor's main goal last night was to send a conciliatory signal to Schmoke, a former ally who broke with the governor this year and supported another Democrat in the governor's race, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

Out of campaign funds, Rehrmann abandoned her effort in August, but Schmoke and another Rehrmann backer, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, have resisted appeals from other Democrats to back Glendening in his tight race against Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Schmoke has feuded with Glendening for more than two years, after the governor questioned the mayor's account of a private meeting on the issue of legalizing slot machines.

The mayor could not be reached for comment last night on Glendening's statement, but earlier in the day he told reporters that in return for the governor's commitment on the court issue, the mayor would promise to work to turn out Baltimore voters in the Nov. 3 general election.

The mayor suggested getting out the vote would be easier with a specific offer -- telling voters Glendening's re-election would allow the city to afford more police officers and criminal justice programs.

"If the governor expects a large turnout, there ought to be a specific reason for Baltimore voters to go to the polls," Schmoke said at an impromptu news conference at City Hall. "I would convey it in terms of public safety because it would free up money."

The state takeover of the circuit courts would cost about $73 million, according to legislative analysts. The takeover will likely face an uphill battle in the General Assembly, which has rejected similar proposals in recent years.

The mayor broached the deal through Larry Gibson, his chief political strategist. Gibson was also negotiating on behalf of Curry, who is seeking a commitment from Glendening for more (( state aid to build public schools.

"The conversations were very positive," Schmoke said of discussions with Glendening's campaign. "I thought it was something that would happen."

Carol L. Hirschburg, a spokeswoman for Sauerbrey, dismissed Glendening's statement as blatant political deal-making, and a replay of four years ago when candidate Glendening also promised Schmoke he would work to achieve a state takeover of the circuit courts.

"It only has to do with his desire to win Schmoke's endorsement," Hirschburg said. "If he were so concerned about cops on the street, he would have done this four years ago when he first promised to."

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat and ally of both Schmoke and Glendening, said he hoped the governor's stance on the court takeover would lead to a truce between the two men.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is a win-win for both parties," Cummings said. "But most importantly, the people of the city win."

Cummings said it has been frustrating to watch Democratic leaders squabble, and said having a Republican governor would prove harmful to city residents.

"There is nothing more important to me for them than to make sure we maintain a Democratic controlled state House, state Senate and House of Delegates," Cummings said.

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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