Art of the deal is key for Md. Democrats

October 05, 1998|By Ron Walters

PERHAPS what we see in the relations between Gov. Parris N. Glendening's campaign and the coalition of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry is an elegant ostrich mating dance. In any case, it appears to violate normal aspects of the political process in at least a few key respects.

First, let's mention a point well-known by politicians: Elections are won in the messy business of putting together a voting coalition by either chance or effective bargaining.

The problem with the current scenario that has the governor as the pouting, spurned bride and Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Curry as recalcitrant no-shows is that no one seems to be able to figure out who has the weight of the responsibility for putting the pieces back together.

Yet what is at stake in this governor's race is clearly the coherence of the state Democratic Party, which places a heavy responsibility on the party leader to bring the party's various factions together in a cohesive unit for a successful campaign.

This should certainly be clear to Mr. Glendening, who won four years ago by the slim margin of just under 6,000 votes, with voters in Baltimore and Prince George's County giving him more than 200,000 votes.

The latest polls show Mr. Glendening and his Republican challenger Ellen Sauerbrey locked in a dead heat.

Now -- with less than a month left before Election Day -- would be a good time for Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Curry, who have been sitting on their hands for whatever reasons, to join the governor's re-election bandwagon.

But they have balked, creating a bargaining situation by refusinto join the Glendening campaign.

So, what should be done for the good of the Democratic Party in Maryland? A deal should be made through careful bargaining that is not only respectful of all the parties involved, but also is nurtured through the election.

This will challenge the political acumen of everyone involved but is absolutely essential to Mr. Glendening having a realistic chance of winning on Nov. 3.

Brokering a deal

In the bargaining process, though, the tradition of Southern politics must be discarded. In this tradition, blacks received little more than "walking-around" money on Election Day in exchange for their absolute loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Instead, Maryland pols should consider the example of the late ++ Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who used to regularly tell presidents, governors and anyone else who would listen that he had the votes in Chicago that could make or break a candidate for statewide or national office.

All he wanted in return was a deal that would deliver benefits to the residents of Chicago in return for their support.

This new generation of black elected officials is determined to use its leverage to extract things their constituents elected them to obtain.

This is nothing more than old-fashioned politics, but yet there are voices telling Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Curry to sign on to the Glendening campaign without a deal that would help their constituents.

Luring votes away

Ms. Sauerbrey has shrewdly gone after members of the Democratic coalition, offering senior citizens a tax cut and promising blacks help with education and community development.

This has been an effective ploy that has blurred her hard-line conservative posture with some voters. One sees Ms. Sauerbrey kissing black babies, being photographed in a black community opposing a prison planned nearby in southeast Washington, D.C., while the Glendening camp sends out a press release opposing it.

The result: Black support for Ms. Sauerbrey has grown by 8 percentage points in the polls since July to 19 points.

Recently, The Sun reported that the governor's representatives were talking to Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Curry and may even have struck a deal. But from comments quoted in the newspaper, it seems that personality conflicts could threaten to rupture such a pact.

It's best that such deals be conducted quietly behind closed doors lest a minor misunderstanding undo the talks.

There's no overstating how important it is for Mr. Glendening to unite the party, especially in the wake of other negative factors such as the governor snubbing President Clinton, something that won't help him with black voters.

Also, the primary election turnout was as low as expected in the black community.

This may mean that even a united Maryland Democratic Party isn't assured of returning the governor to the State House.

But it makes sense -- given the stakes and the context of this election -- for the governor to manage the politics of coalition building regardless of the apparent recalcitrance of the various members.

He has to cement the coalition with Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Curry with the kind of aplomb and savvy that has been characteristic of his approach to his most important policy initiatives, such as legislation dealing with gun violence and other issues.

He has managed to do this with the state troopers, labor groups and others who have rewarded him because of his loyalty to their agenda.

All of Maryland's Democrats know they must get to the same side of the table. The only question is whether they can get there before it is too late.

Ron Walters, Ph.D., is a professor of Afro-American studies, government and politics and a senior scholar in the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland,College Park.

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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