Townsend situation looks familiar

The Political Game

Front-runner: Yes, she's a lieutenant governor with a fast start in a gubernatorial race that's years away. But then, so was Mickey Steinberg.

November 09, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

LT. GOV. KATHLEEN Kennedy Townsend is riding high these days. Three years before the 2002 election, she's raising money with Kennedy-esque ease, and polls show her with a comfortable lead over her likely Democratic rivals.

But before she starts selecting new drapes for the governor's office, Townsend should adopt a two-word mantra:

"Mickey Steinberg."

You remember him? Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg.

Steinberg didn't make it to the governor's office, of course.

But at this point in the 1994 election campaign, it looked as if he might.

The previous year, Steinberg had helped his ticket-mate, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, to a double-digit re-election margin.

Steinberg, a Baltimore County Democrat, had been lieutenant governor for five years and was the early favorite to be the next governor. His strongest challenger was from the Washington suburbs and was little-known in the Baltimore region -- Parris N. Glendening of Prince George's County.

Eight years later, Townsend is in a similar situation.

Townsend helped Glendening win re-election by a double-digit margin last year. A Baltimore County Democrat, Townsend has been lieutenant governor for five years and is the early favorite in the 2002 race. Her chief opposition could also come from a Washington-area challenger, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

Townsend and her advisers are no doubt hoping that the similarities end there -- because Steinberg's campaign was a case study in how to lose.

First, Schaefer froze him out over a variety of disagreements, depriving him of important exposure and kudos. Critics questioned why Steinberg was accepting his salary if he wasn't doing any work.

The state economy went south, forcing a series of unpopular budget cuts and tax increases.

Steinberg might have been able to overcome those handicaps, but he proved an undisciplined candidate who insisted on having a say in every facet of the campaign -- a style that sent several professional political advisers fleeing.

As things went from bad to worse, Steinberg was forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to keep his campaign afloat.

Once the front-runner, Steinberg finished a dreadful third in the Democratic primary, behind Glendening and former state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski.

"It was astounding," says Jim Brochin, Miedusiewski's campaign manager.

So, will Townsend "pull a Mickey" in the next three years?

Not likely.

She will probably maintain the strong support of Glendening. The economy is humming and Townsend appears, early on, to be running a focused, albeit largely out-of-sight campaign.

But, like Steinberg in the early '90s, Townsend has not been fully tested as a statewide candidate. Once the voters start to size her up as a possible governor, anything can happen.

Steinberg, by the way, disappeared from state politics after his 1994 race, resurfacing in an unlikely way last fall. The longtime liberal Democrat endorsed conservative Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey over the team of Glendening and Townsend.

Tea with Nancy Reagan, fund raising with Schmoke

Speaking of strange bedfellows, Townsend had a lengthy afternoon tea 10 days ago with Nancy Reagan, wife of former President Ronald Reagan, at the Hotel Bel-Air near Beverly Hills, Calif., aides said.

The two got together at the urging of their mutual friend, cable talk-show host Larry King, who gave Townsend an hour of sympathetic questioning about her famous family last month.

Closer to home, Townsend has patched up with someone who feuded bitterly with Glendening -- departing Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. He and his wife, Dr. Patricia Schmoke, are listed as members of the host committee for Townsend's downtown fund-raiser next week.

Prince George's executive puts Glendening on the spot

Another Glendening antagonist, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, seized an opportunity last week to send a pointed message to the governor, reports The Sun's Candus Thomson.

Curry and Glendening have been frequent sparring partners over the years, and broke entirely last fall when Curry endorsed one of Glendening's opponents.

Speaking at a breakfast fund-raiser in Greenbelt for Sen. Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County, Curry turned to Glendening.

"I'm glad to be here at this teachable moment," Curry said. "This is supposed to be a love fest with certain protocols that should be followed and I will, with a couple of salient exceptions."

Curry reached into his suit jacket and extracted his "wish list" for the next legislative session.

With the home crowd roaring its approval, Curry waved the list in front of the ever-reddening Glendening, and asked when the two were going to get together to "talk about an agenda to move Prince George's forward."

Glendening squirmed, but made no firm commitments. Later, a Glendening spokesman said the governor had left an "open invitation" for Curry to meet.

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