Thorns aside, a truce blooms

Feud: Longtime rivals Glendening and Schaefer put their differences behind them -- if only for one last meeting.

January 09, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

At the end, instead of fireworks, there were flowers.

The final meeting of the Maryland Board of Public Works led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening took an unexpectedly amiable turn yesterday as he and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer put aside their rancor and treated each other civilly.

The former and soon-to-be-former governor didn't exactly kiss and make up after four years of Schaefer's caustic commentary and Glendening's lofty disdain. But at their last board meeting together, they both publicly admitted that maybe, just maybe, the other guy had been trying to do a good job.

There was no talk of the "ayatollah" -- Schaefer's not-so-affectionate description of Glendening. No reference was made to "the big boss" -- the comptroller's 2001 description of Jennifer Crawford, who would later become Glendening's wife. Schaefer's public comment had led to the disclosure of Glendening's romantic relationship with his former deputy chief of staff.

Yesterday, publicly at least, bygones appeared to be bygones.

Glendening set the tone by sweeping into the State House reception room carrying flowers -- a dozen yellow roses for Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and a basket of purple African violets for Schaefer.

Schaefer appeared surprised but recovered, giving Glendening an inscribed photograph of himself expressing his best wishes.

Then the two embraced.

The subsequent meeting was a letdown for anyone expecting a final burst of venom from Schaefer, who has carried on a largely one-sided feud with Glendening since being elected comptroller in 1998.

The most vehement comment from the comptroller yesterday was directed not at the governor but at the state Department of Assessments and Taxation. Schaefer said he had received his new assessment on his home and was "amazed and shocked" at the increased evaluation of his property.

The 81-year-old Schaefer urged other senior citizens to appeal their assessments.

The board went on to approve a full agenda of state contracts, land preservation deals and legal settlements -- as well as $173 million in spending cuts proposed by Glendening to balance the books for the current fiscal year.

One item that was not voted on was the landmark settlement of a 1992 racial-profiling case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against the Maryland State Police.

The administration withdrew the proposal from the agenda after Kopp and Schaefer said Tuesday that they wanted to give Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. an opportunity to review the agreement.

Kopp said yesterday that she believes the deal is "a very good settlement" but expressed reservations about rushing it through at Glendening's last meeting.

But Kopp warned that Ehrlich's alternatives are to accept the agreement or to go back to court. "We may not get a settlement that is as advantageous to the state as this one," she said.

Schaefer indicated that he was willing to see the state take its chances.

"You've got to give the state police a little bit of a break and not always find them at fault," he said.

Under the agreement, the state would develop a system for tracking and reviewing the race of stopped motorists, establish a police-citizen panel to monitor reports of racial profiling and set up a toll-free telephone number for complaints, among other provisions.

Glendening said it was "reasonable" to give Ehrlich a chance to review the deal.

Yesterday's placid finale surprised observers because the stage had seemed to be set for a bruising final meeting. In comments Tuesday to Washington's WTOP radio, Glendening said he felt "sorry" for Schaefer.

"He is an individual who is very bitter, very much alone. He is extraordinarily unhappy. It is sad to see someone who has tried to do so many things end up so bitter," the governor said.

But as yesterday's meeting ended, there were no signs of anger or bitterness. Glendening and Schaefer shook hands and put their heads together for a few moments of personal conversation.

Glendening said he had been reading about Schaefer's efforts to cope with the last budget crisis in the early 1990s. He said that while he and Schaefer had their differences over style, they share a common experience of being "the ultimate safety net" for Marylanders.

"The key item is we care about people," Glendening said. "I've never doubted that he wants to help people."

Schaefer denied he was lonely or bitter but declined to get into a tussle with Glendening about his comments Tuesday. The comptroller said he has put his anger over Glendening's decision to turn off his beloved Government House fountain during the recent drought behind him.

"He had his fun. I had my fun," Schaefer said.

Glendening was asked whether he had any advice for Ehrlich about how to deal with Schaefer.

"Give him flowers early," Glendening replied.

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