Glendening ad maneuver says more about him than Schaefer

September 08, 2002|By MICHAEL OLESKER

POOR PARRIS N. Glendening.

The governor of Maryland begins to take his leave of office by taking leave of his senses. He attempts to strike a bold pose as belated conqueror of William Donald Schaefer and instead merely solidifies his own previous image.

For Glendening, it is the image of the school nerd who thought he'd find popularity by running for class president, and instead found the older guys still mocking him. They mocked his spending habits, and his dating habits, too, and did it in public so that it hurt.

So now, as he heads toward his graduation day, Glendening looks for last revenge and hopes to escape the premises before anybody can catch up to him. He goes to every classmate he can find. He tells them about the terrible crimes committed behind their back by that mean Schaefer. The classmates ask: "What crimes did Schaefer commit?"

"He said a name," declares a breathless Parris Glendening.

"That's it?" the classmates ask.

"He said two names," declares Glendening, really piling it on.

Oh, what a puny, pathetic gesture the governor makes as he prepares to depart office. He accuses Schaefer of racism, and he accuses him of sexism.

The racism charges come out of Schaefer saying "Afro" instead of "African-American." Schaefer says it happened only once, and he apologized. The sexism charges come out of Schaefer calling women "little girl." With Schaefer, this did not happen one time. It happens all the time.

For the most part, he says "little girl" to grown women in the same manner he says "junior" to grown men. It is mostly a term of affection. Or not remembering a name.

Or, let's face it, because he is sometimes cranky and annoyed and has been known to speak in cryptic shorthand. Sometimes, this is a difficult man. But he's difficult in the way once ascribed to Vince Lombardi, the tough Green Bay Packers coach: "He's not prejudiced. He hates everybody equally."

To launch an attack attaching to Schaefer - days before an election - two of the most loaded buzzwords in the culture is a cheap shot. As a woman's voice in the radio commercials says, "We've come too far" to put up with that now. You want to make a case for bias, you had four decades of Schaefer's career to expose it if it was there.

Two days before Marylanders go to the polls, no effort will be made here to analyze Schaefer's campaign for state comptroller against John T. Willis. Everybody knows Schaefer's record in government by now. And Willis, for his part, denied all knowledge of the radio ads attacking Schaefer, which were paid for out of previously unspent Glendening campaign funds.

But Schaefer's record on race and gender ought to be put into some perspective.

Sexist? Schaefer's the guy who surrounded himself with women when feminism was just a blip on the national radar. From his earliest days in the mayor's office, he made Joan Bereska and Janet Hoffman and Marion Pines enormously important. He had advisers such as Sandy Hillman and Sally Michel and Hope Quackenbush and Mary Arabian. Across the years, no one's been a closer Schaefer confidant than Lainey LeBow-Sachs.

He never made a big deal out of it. He never said, "Look what I'm doing for feminism." He just wanted the best brains around him that he could find. Was he sometimes impossible around these women? Of course. That's Schaefer. Was it because he considered them little girls? Please.

As for the racism issue - it's interesting that Glendening placed the radio ads only in the D.C. suburbs. Around here, Glendening would have found a tougher sell. Schaefer became mayor when this city was on its knees. The 1968 riots set off waves of fear and antagonism that lingered for years.

Schaefer never made any great speeches about it. But running a city that is two-thirds African-American, he became a cheerleader for every neighborhood in the city, and jumped on every festival, any street party, any city fair that brought people together and showed them we could work it out if we saw ourselves as one city.

Has he worked as well with blacks as he's worked with women? He had a City Council president named Clarence H. Du Burns who thought Schaefer was the greatest mayor in history. As governor, he dealt with a mayor named Kurt L. Schmoke with whom he had a completely fractious relationship.

But Schmoke said on several occasions, "When all the shouting's over, he always gives us what we need."

After so many years in public life, the issue isn't William Donald Schaefer's alleged prejudice. The man is cranky and aggravating and impatient with almost everybody, and this is a secret to almost nobody.

But to arrive, this late in the game, with these bias charges tells us far more about Parris Glendening than it does about Schaefer.

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