The silly season arrives

Campaigning: Neither Lt. Gov. Townsend nor Mayor O'Malley is officially in, but the race is on.

February 02, 2002

WHEN CANDIDATES hold fund-raisers, their handlers often like to call their event a "Tribute to ... whomever." The idea is to convince givers that they're not just handing over money; they're also thanking someone for service in the public good.

The main objective is to raise money, though, so you might be surprised to learn that Mayor Martin O'Malley's stadium-sized fund-raiser this spring will be known to O'Malley insiders as "A Tribute to Michael Bronfein."

This may be thought of as a wickedly funny reversal.

Michael Bronfein, a businessman, heads the money-raising efforts of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. In a recent communication to the world of political contributors in Maryland, Mr. Bronfein urged a boycott of Mayor O'Malley's fund-raising event scheduled for later this year. Don't send him money, the communication advised. Send us money.

Bad move. Fat-cat contributors don't like to be ordered around, even by their peers. They also know it pays to hedge your bets. The rule: Absolutely do send money to both sides. In this case, moreover, many givers believe mayors can sometimes help them as much as governors.

But the gaffe had another side.

With the Bronfein missive in hand, Mr. O'Malley hit the phones. Within a few days, he claims, this inadvertent leverage had helped him raise $200,000. It was embarrassing to Ms. Townsend and, of course, it hit all the papers.

Hence the tribute.

Get used to this kind of politicking. Everything any of the "widely mentioned" contenders for governor does from now on will be seen as the act of a candidate. Think of controversies over redistricting in the context of the likely gubernatorial campaign of Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich. Did Ms. Townsend know the congressman had been drawn out of the 2nd District? Absolutely not, we are told.

The reality, though, is this: From now on, Ms. Townsend will be required to know everything. "I don't know" will seem increasingly lame.

Mr. O'Malley's road, should he decide to run, will be no less demanding. His criticisms of the lieutenant governor have seemed more political than mayoral. In that sense, they will be regarded as self-serving. His city is dependent on the state for financial help. It does not need powerful enemies.

If he wants a political future, he needs to develop more agility. His unvarnished commentary is refreshing, but it need not be incendiary. The bridges he burns could leave an entire city stranded.

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