Gloves might come off today at meeting of 2 heavyweights

This Just In...

September 04, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

WELL, I KNOW one baby William Donald Schaefer won't be kissing during the campaign. And don't look for Schaefer to send a year's supply of Huggies over to the governor's mansion for the "little girl" in Parris Glendening's life. Not unless the governor turns Hilda Mae's fountain back on, and that's not going to happen with the drought and all. And then there are those anti-Schaefer radio ads Glendening paid for. It's payback time.

Hell hath no fury like that of a governor who has had it up to here with personal attacks from a petty and sarcastic state comptroller.

This campaign is getting nasty, and Schaefer could go boom any day now.

Those of us who have been Willie Don-watching for years fully expected his head to explode by now.

We thought it was going to happen in 1980, when Harborplace opened and Ralph Moore, an advocate for the poor, challenged Schaefer's priorities on Nightline. The forehead looked like an outbreak of red tide.

We expected a seismic blast in 1990, when Schaefer, running for a second term as governor, fumed about "only" getting 60 percent of the vote in the general election, and little support from "that [defecatorium] of an Eastern Shore." I actually saw crimson swelling in the temples.

And then there were all the times he blew up at bureaucrats and citizens who wrote him letters of protest, and the time Robert Irsay took the Colts to Indianapolis.

The man popped like an Orville Redenbacher product. But he did not explode.

He's a time bomb who has had more ticks than my beagle.

At 80, he's still alive and kickin' and I believe in my bones there's one final, massive explosion to come. It's going to be Goetterdaemmerung on the Patapsco, a big, red 'splosion.

I think it could come today.

I have an invitation to attend Ballroom Boxing in Glen Burnie on Sept. 26, but I'm thinking I might do better by going to the Board of Public Works in Annapolis this morning.

I can see it now -- Schaefer and Glendening sitting at the same table trying to decide whether to approve spending $1 million on Chestertown's waste-water treatment plant through the "Biological Nutrient Removal Upgrade Supplemental Assistance Program," better known as BNRUSAP.

With all that's been going on -- Glendening backing John Willis, Schaefer's opponent for comptroller in the Democratic primary, and launching ads reminding key voters of Schaefer's "insensitive" remarks about women and blacks -- I can't imagine Schaefer keeping his mind on capital improvement grants to Kent County.

So, my prefight prediction is that he will launch one of his rambling, sarcastic fusillades. And this time, Glendening will give back.

I pity the woman who gets caught in the middle of this -- state Treasurer Nancy Kopp. But mark my words, this could be the day Schaefer nukes out.

He can no longer contain himself. I'm telling you: We'll need dental records to ID everyone in the room.

I never thought I'd be saying this but, ladies and gentlemen, we could be seeing the end of Maryland's longest-running show. No politician provided Marylanders with this much entertainment. Schaefer made Cats look like a one-night stand.

But I hear a lot of grumbles about Schaefer's act getting old, especially during the past few years when he used Board of Public Works meetings to explain why he hated Glendening so much. And then he outed Glendening's relationship with the young staff member who is now the governor's wife, and Schaefer, the Do It Now man, became Schaefer, the Do It Mean guy.

Not that there's a lot of sympathy out there for Glendening.

This guy may not be well liked, and he may have the personality of a grape, but he's had an effective run as governor and championed many progressive policies that Schaefer, a Democrat more by registration than by spirit, dismisses.

Enter John Willis, Glendening's longtime political adviser and Maryland's secretary of state. He's come out of nowhere to present a challenge to Schaefer in the primary -- and it's happened in a way that has political observers buzzing.

Willis has a bunch of nice endorsements from groups that could provide considerable get-out-the-vote help on a day when turnout among Democrats will be low, except in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, territory Willis and Glendening understand. "Only the most committed Democrats, the most educated, informed and activist will be casting ballots," says Herb Smith, a political professor at McDaniel College and a trenchant observer of Maryland voting patterns. "While polls still show Schaefer with a comfortable lead, it's been my experience in surveys that forecasting who will turn out to vote is very, very difficult in such situations."

Glendening, who rarely answered Schaefer's attacks, just bided his time, waiting for an opportunity for some payback. He may not look like a fighter, but he knows how to play rope-a-dope.

The $25,000 he put into the radio ads against Schaefer has already paid off many times over in free media for Willis, who needs it. Whatever you think of him, Glendening is one smart dude when it comes to politics. Schaefer knows that, and resents him for it -- for giving him the possibility of a real fight on Election Day. Payback happens.

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