Schaefer critical of terrorism readiness

His comments about governor's plans called `irresponsible'

October 04, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

In one of his angriest diatribes to date, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer accused Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday of not doing enough to prevent terrorist attacks in Maryland.

Schaefer lashed out at Glendening at a meeting of the state Board of Public Works.

He demanded that the governor disclose whether terrorist organizations are operating in Maryland and what the state is doing to deal with the threat of such an attack.

"I don't think you're doing what should be done as far as our people are concerned," Schaefer said.

A spokesman for the governor called Schaefer's comments "inappropriate" and "irresponsible."

The comptroller also speculated that terrorist groups might be smuggling cigarettes to finance their activities.

He offered no evidence to support his claim, but said a large proportion of those arrested for the offense by his office have Middle Eastern names.

During the meeting, Glendening declined to respond to Schaefer's demands for information on terrorism and offered him a briefing by Gen. James F. Fretterd, commander of the Maryland National Guard.

"Mr. Comptroller, you know this is not the time for it," Glendening said after one of Schaefer's outbursts.

Schaefer was not appeased. He repeatedly demanded that Glendening discuss the state's anti-terrorist preparations publicly, insisting that it was a legitimate question for a member of the board to ask.

"I'm not a stooge for you and automatically say yes, yes, yes," Schaefer said during one lengthy retort.

Schaefer also said that two days after the attacks, his office had provided the FBI with a list of names of people arrested in Maryland on cigarette smuggling charges, saying he believes they might find a link to terrorists.

The comptroller said he reached that conclusion because many of those arrested had Middle Eastern or Arabic-sounding names.

His office released a list of 61 people with such names arrested on cigarette-smuggling charges in Maryland since January 1999. A spokesman said that total represented about half of all those arrested on smuggling charges in Maryland in that time.

Schaefer's conduct drew a rebuke later from state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, who backed the governor and called Schaefer's demands during the meeting "inappropriate."

The board - made up of the governor, the comptroller and the treasurer - meets regularly to review and approve state contracts.

Since his election in 1998, Schaefer has turned the meetings into a forum for denouncing Glendening on matters great and small - from land preservation policies to the governor's decision to turn off the water in a fountain at Government House.

Through most of Schaefer's polemics, Glendening has kept a poker face and refused to respond in kind.

Yesterday, the governor made his most forceful response, speaking in a louder tone than he has used previously to admonish the comptroller.

"Mr. Comptroller, I suggest we move on with the agenda," Glendening said after Schaefer demanded that the governor be present at any briefing with Fretterd.

Dixon said after the meeting that the governor was correct in refusing to answer Schaefer's questions in public. "This was not the appropriate forum for that," he said.

Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said Schaefer has acted irresponsibly at previous board meetings but called this the "most inappropriate."

"This was so far out of bounds that you couldn't help but note it was out of bounds," Morrill said.

Spokesmen for the governor said the board meeting was the wrong place to discuss sensitive security measures and counterterrrorism plans.

The spokesmen said the comptroller's "rants" are out of place at a time when many political leaders are avoiding harsh language toward rivals after the attacks Sept. 11.

They also noted that since Sept. 11 the governor has held repeated news conferences on matters related to the attacks, including National Guard deployments, benefits for members of the armed services and the creation of a working group to update the state's counterterrorism plans.

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