Tactics of endorsement Democrats: Beyond personal-political disputes, the decision of Schmoke, Gibson and Curry to support the governor could be based on other considerations.

The Political Game

October 06, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

THAT NOISE YOU HEAR is a gnashing of Democratic teeth over the endorsement tactics of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry and their best political friend, Larry S. Gibson.

Will they or won't they endorse the re-election campaign of Gov. Parris N. Glendening?

The better question may be, "What's really going on here?"

The Schmoke-Gibson-Curry combine has said it feels trifled with and betrayed by the governor. Schmoke says Glendening promised to put slot machines at the race tracks and share the revenue with Baltimore. (It never happened, says Glendening.)

Curry says Glendening, who was Prince George's executive before he became governor, left Curry an enormous budget deficit. (It was a surplus, says Glendening.)

Beyond these personal- political disputes, their decision to dangle belated support in exchange for state aid could be based on broader considerations: respect and control, for example.

Howard University political scientist Ron Walters puts it this way: "I believe that if you're a minority and want to compete in the political system, you can't afford to be taken for granted by one party [Democrats] and ignored by the other [Republicans]."

Offered as theory often, versions of this thought are finding expression in Maryland and in campaigns across the country this year. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the GOP standard-bearer here, has gone aggressively after the African-American vote in Baltimore and Prince George's, attempting to make herself attractive on strictly pragmatic grounds: I will get your kids out of mobile classrooms; I will put more money in your retirement check.

In Florida, Republican Jeb Bush courts black support after paying little attention to black voters in a 1994 race he lost by a few percentage points to Democrat Lawton Chiles. (Sauerbrey's 1994 experience was identical in Maryland.)

In Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Emanuel Cleaver II, who is black, has been speaking kindly of Republican Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond's help in bringing major projects to his city and criticizing Attorney General Jay Nixon, the Democratic nominee.

The Democratic response in Baltimore may be a complicated one in Maryland. Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings says Glendening can point to many judicial appointments of blacks -- and aid to the city that amounts to anything but taking blacks for granted. Save for the disagreement over slots, the governor might well have assured himself of Schmoke's backing long ago. But the holdout continues.

Glendening is reduced to offering a somewhat bald political payoff: A $73 million state takeover of the circuit courts as bait for Schmoke's belated endorsement. Of the total, the city's share would be $9 million. Negotiations reportedly are under way, some of them having to do with Curry's needs in Prince Georges.

All of these exertions are undertaken to promote the sort of turnout Glendening needs in Baltimore and Prince George's, where he had a majority of 137,000 votes in the 1994 race with Sauerbrey. He won by 5,993.

Baltimore might yet see a Gibson-style demonstration of what he called "the church of sign-tology" -- blanket coverage of the city with lawn and window signs to convince the uncommitted that there is no choice.

Gibson's rival in the sign business, Julius Henson, might unfurl a few banners and do some of the things that helped U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings into the House of Representatives and Joan M. Pratt into the city comptroller's office.

But is there time? In the past, when Gibson was working without reservation for Schmoke or President Clinton or Glendening, he worked hard through the summer, dominating what Curry calls the "task-oriented" business of preparing to win: the registration of voters, for example.

So far this year, Gibson has worked harder against Glendening than for him. Until early August when she withdrew, he managed the gubernatorial campaign of Glendening rival Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

Gibson put out a colorful broadsheet, hoisted billboards above the Jones Falls Expressway and plastered Rehrmann's face on the side of trucks. He wanted Rehrmann as the Democratic Party standard-bearer, he said, because she had the best chance of beating Sauerbrey.

The question is whether Glendening will get more than tacit endorsements for the promises he makes to Curry and Schmoke.

The irony? If the electorate is as sleepy as some say, Gibson might be unable to energize it. Should Sauerbrey win, he would )) make his point and avoid defeat at the same time.

Glendening offers humor on the stump

Not noted for his prowess with the one-liner, Glendening earned more than a few chuckles recently at Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore.

"This is truly a day the Lord hath made," the governor said. "I want to thank God for getting me up this morning. And it was the Lord, not the alarm clock. If you don't believe me, take the alarm clock down to the cemetery some day and see how you make out."

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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