A splendid ride reaches its end

The Political Game

Farewell: A reporter moves on, looking back at many years of great stories and colorful personalities.

April 17, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

MORE THAN a dozen years ago, I stumbled upon a tantalizingly good story about Paul E. Weisengoff, a cigar-smoking delegate from South Baltimore. Weisengoff had all-too-successfully turned the annual gathering of the Southern Legislative Conference in Baltimore that year into a cottage industry for his entire family.

After some prodding, Weisengoff agreed to make copies of his conference records, knowing, no doubt, that they would confirm the abuses I had heard about. As we stood over a copy machine in the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis, Weisengoff turned to look at the young reporter doing his best not to grin.

"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" he asked me.

I was, and I still am.

But after 17 years at The Sun, 11 of them in the State House, I'm moving on to try something different. This marks the last time I will write "The Political Game," a healthy franchise launched by Fraser Smith and Bill Zorzi.

My first time in the Senate chamber, I got thrown out by then-President Mickey Steinberg for not wearing a tie. One of my last times in the ornate chamber, I was given a congratulatory proclamation. In between, there were many moments that make for great happy hour conversations, at least at the bar at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis.

Journalistic highlights?

On the Republican side, it had to be the weeklong trial of Ellen Sauerbrey's challenge to the 1994 gubernatorial election results. It was demanding journalistic exercise, even though the odd assortment of witnesses proved nothing, except that Sauerbrey's out-of-town experts knew how to collect enormous paychecks.

On the Democratic side, there were two, both involving our governor, Parris N. Glendening. First was his sweetheart pension deal with Prince George's County. What can you say about a story that combines greed, stupidity and secrecy so seamlessly?

Then came his secret "slots for tots" agreement with Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke. Bill Zorzi, with me along for the ride, outed the substance of their discussions. Furious, Glendening vowed to forever oppose slot machines, and he has.

In all fairness to Glendening, he has emerged from the political depths of his first two years in office and will leave a wide-ranging legacy in this state. And his double-digit victory in 1998 should provide a blueprint for statewide Democrats to win again and again.

Many of the stories that will stick with me the longest never made it into print. There was the day, for instance, when Thomas V. Mike Miller, the Senate president, rushed over to confide in me his secret of, ahem, virility: "two Cuttys and a dozen oysters."

Or the afternoon that William Donald Schaefer called me into his State House office and launched into a crude, off-the-record, tirade about Miller, complete with hand gestures. I'm still blushing.

Longevity has its benefits. I've been able to watch Kathleen Kennedy Townsend grow from an unpolished, 30-something bouncing around the precincts of Middle River in 1986 into a still not-quite-polished 49-year-old, odds-on favorite to become governor.

I've also had to watch Schaefer, the most compelling politician of his generation, wrestle with his slide into the most difficult of all political conditions, irrelevance. Suffice it to say that he's not handling it well.

And I was there the day that a dignified, but clearly defeated, Mayor Kurt Schmoke testified in favor of a bill that essentially ended his control over the Baltimore City school system.

Schmoke's successor, Martin O'Malley, exuded confidence a few years later as he told legislators that the state's top judges, and their overly sunny assessments of the city's criminal justice system, made him want to throw up.

As for me, I've had enough longevity.

I'm trading in The Sun's windowless bunker in the State House for a bunker in my own house in Baltimore. It's been a splendid ride. And to all those who felt compelled to drop dimes and call me over the years: Bless you.

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