Much is still uncertain about Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s takeover of state government. But one thing seems sure: Board of Public Works meetings could get mighty boring.
As Wednesday's encounter demonstrated, the bimonthly meetings are the preferred forum of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer to let loose a stream of abuse on Gov. Parris N. Glendening, whom he calls, among other names, "that rum-dumb."
But Schaefer, who endorsed Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's campaign, has nothing but high hopes for Ehrlich, who will replace Glendening on the board.
"I want him to be successful," Schaefer said in a recent interview, adding that he had instructed his staff to help the new governor as much as possible. "He's a good guy. I liked him as a congressman. He never tried to beat me up when he was in the legislature and I was governor. ... I'm going to try to cooperate with him on the Board of Public Works."
At a state Board of Revenue Estimates meeting Monday led by Schaefer, he and Ehrlich were publicly chummy. "C'mon, big guy," Schaefer said as he motioned Ehrlich into his office for a quick private chat just before the meeting.
Later, Schaefer lavishly praised Ehrlich for attending the meeting, and he bashed Glendening for bad budget news. "He is being set up to be blamed for all these things," he said of Ehrlich. "I have counseled him not to be set up like this."
Schaefer's early approbation means more than just the possibility of peaceful Board of Public Works meetings. Schaefer is one of Maryland's most beloved and influential politicians - possibly the only one who can get away with actively endorsing Townsend while at the same time allowing more than half his loyalists to work for Ehrlich's victory.
Of late, Ehrlich has put campaign grudges aside and begun to shore up his relationship with the elder politician, a former governor and Baltimore mayor. He recently paid a visit to Schaefer in his Annapolis office, where they talked about the state budget, among other topics.
Ehrlich is well advised to court Schaefer's support. If he becomes the new governor's consistent ally on the three-member board, which also includes Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a liberal Democrat, Schaefer could become key to helping Ehrlich implement, among other policies, his economic plan, which rests heavily on legalizing slot machines in Maryland.
Although the General Assembly will likely decide next year whether to bring slots to the state, certain aspects of Ehrlich's gambling proposal would have to come before the Board of Public Works.
Schaefer has stopped short of embracing slots, but said in an interview last week, "If he advocates it, I don't think I'm going to fight it."
In addition, Ehrlich is considering several former members of Schaefer's administration for his Cabinet. Among the names under consideration are Nelson J. Sabatini, former state health secretary, and Mary Ann Saar, Schaefer's secretary for juvenile services. Torrey C. Brown, former secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, has also been mentioned.
Several of Schaefer's good friends and fund-raisers are part of Ehrlich's transition team, including Gene Raynor, Louis J. Grasmick and Robert A. Pascal, former Anne Arundel County executive. Another Schaefer ally, former Del. Kenneth H. Masters, has been named head of legislative affairs for Ehrlich.
Some political observers say the resurrected names are evidence of Schaefer's hand in the new administration.
"William Donald is working his magic with the incoming administration," said an official in Glendening's administration. "He's a master politician. He played both sides magnificently," the official added, referring to Schaefer's endorsement of Townsend.
Schaefer applauds his friends' participation, real or rumored, but says he has nothing to do with it. "This is Ehrlich's administration. It is not Schaefer's administration," he said.
Ehrlich spokesman Paul E. Schurick - former chief of staff under Governor Schaefer - agreed. "There are a lot of former Schaefer folks who are interested in returning to state government. But they are not coming from him," he said.
Schurick, who talks to Schaefer periodically, is an important link between the two politicians. He went to work for Ehrlich after Glendening entered office in 1995.
When Schurick told Schaefer of the job offer, Schaefer remembered, "I said, `But you're a Democrat.' And then I told him he ought to do it. He was young, and Ehrlich was on his way up."
Despite his open admiration for Ehrlich - and his disapproval of Glendening's fiscal record and personal life - Schaefer decided to endorse Townsend for governor.
While Ehrlich's camp expected that support to be lukewarm, Schaefer ended up doing radio and television ads on her behalf.
"I am sure that Bob didn't like it," said Schaefer friend and Democratic fund-raiser Lainy Lebow-Sachs, who also backed Townsend. "I certainly wouldn't blame him if he was displeased."