A political all-points bulletin to clear the air on negative ads, Jews and party invitations

October 04, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

PLEASE PAY attention, because we're only going to run through this once or, if need be, a hundred and forty-seven times, to make sure everybody gets it straight. It's about negative politicking, and Jews and Democrats, and the friends of Parris Glendening who do not wish to stand beside him.

1. Negative political campaigning: You got a problem with this? Not me. Ellen Sauerbrey does, but that's because Parris Glendening is making claims against her that she wishes nobody would remember.

He keeps telling people she's voted consistently against abortion rights. Which happens to be true. He keeps saying she's voted against gun control throughout a murderous era, and voted against safe water and air controls during a time of tricky and fragile ecology. True and true again, and all this is just for openers.

Is there a problem with saying what's true? Is there a problem with any political candidate being held responsible for his or her history?

Just as Glendening has the right -- in fact, the duty -- to point out Sauerbrey's history, and her attempted rewrites of it as she runs for governor, she's got the same right and duty to point out some of his: the ethical lapses, the grabbing of money with both hands, and some of the money being tainted, and the current questions about money being offered for campaign endorsements.

Without talking about such things, what have we got? Each side painting a picture of itself intended to make the flesh go all goose-bumpy, but the portrait not necessarily connected to truth.

There's a difference between dirty politicking and negative politicking. The dirty kind shifts the facts around; the negative kind points out truths that some wish to keep hidden.

By complaining about accurate attacks, Sauerbrey makes herself sound like a helpless waif being unfairly bullied. She's not. She's a candidate for governor whose past has come back to haunt her.

2. Jews and Democrats: Two weeks ago, I invoked the memory of a great-grandmother for a little sociopolitical perspective. Mine happened to worship at the shrine of Democrats for a simple reason.

Fifty and 60 years ago, the Democrats were the first to embrace those such as my own family -- Jews out of Eastern Europe -- as well as blacks and Italians and Greeks and Irish and other ethnic minorities previously relegated to the fringes of American politics.

I felt it was worth relating this to help explain the uproar among some in the Jewish community when Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg defected from a life among Democrats to throw his support behind the Republican Sauerbrey.

Thereupon came some letters -- a handful, no more -- trying to say I was pigeonholing Jews, trying to make them feel traitorous if they voted Republican, trying to make them feel guilty if they did. (Jews and guilt? Nah, whoever heard of such a concept?)

Anyway, those are willful misreadings of the column, which I'm bothering to acknowledge only because the subject's so sensitive. I took care to say that the Jews have shifted considerably in modern times. I even listed Republicans who've been backed by large numbers of Jewish voters.

But the point was: Steinberg comes from that era, which goes back to Franklin Roosevelt, when millions of Jews and other minorities first felt welcomed, and felt it so emotionally that their ties to the Democrats carried over the generations like bloodlines.

Without that embrace, Steinberg himself would never have had political doors opened for him. The column wasn't trying to tell Jews how to vote (I can't get my own family to listen to me!) only attempting to say specifically why Steinberg's shift was such a psychopolitical stunner.

3. The Democratic friends of Parris Glendening, wherever they may be: On primary election night last month, I'll tell you where some of them were: at the Harbor Inn at Pier Five, where the developer/ baker/political fund-raiser John Paterakis had put aside a room for himself and William Donald Schaefer and a few friends for a little party before heading downstairs to a waiting crowd.

As it happens, the party plans evolved.

A handful of Democrats joined hands and pitched in to pay for it. At least one of them, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, then invited Glendening to attend.

This was news to Paterakis and others, who were shocked when Glendening appeared. When I arrived at the hotel that night, several people close to Schaefer fumed openly and at length about Glendening's "surprise" appearance. This reflected the views of Schaefer, who's terrifically uncomfortable with Glendening.

Reaction? When I wrote about the governor's appearance, and other Democrats' discomfort with him that night, Glendening's people complained. They said Glendening was invited to the party.

Well, OK. Let it pass that it wasn't by the guy who originally put the party together.

As for the heart of it -- some Democrats' disdain for this governor -- the Glendening folks' defensiveness doesn't quite explain Mickey Steinberg's endorsement of Sauerbrey, nor former Glendening economic development chief James A. Brady's, nor Eileen Rehrmann's embrace of Sauerbrey, nor endorsements coming from former Democratic delegate Timothy F. Maloney and former Schaefer budget secretary Charles L. Benton.

They're not inviting Glendening to any parties, either.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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