A rush to return legislators' favor

THE POLITICAL GAME

Appointments: The nominations of former lawmakers - who just happened to make hefty donations to Glendening's campaign fund - are quickly processed before his term ends.

January 14, 2003|By Michael Dresser and Sarah Koenig | Michael Dresser and Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

HAPPINESS IS being a former Maryland lawmaker appointed to a high-ranking state job: You get a wonderful "funeral," but you don't have to die.

Former Sens. Perry Sfikas and Michael J. Collins and Del. Thomas E. Dewberry were eulogized to their faces last week as they appeared before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee for confirmation to the plum jobs given them by Gov. Parris N. Glendening last year.

The nominations of the three Democrats were put on a fast track so that they could be confirmed before Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s inauguration tomorrow. The nominations were approved by the committee immediately and rushed to the Senate floor, where the three were confirmed last night on unanimous votes.

As each of the former lawmakers appeared before the committee, their ex-colleagues vied with each other to see who could come up with the most fulsome praised. Hardly mentioned were the hefty contributions the three gave to Glendening from their campaign accounts shortly before or after their appointments.

"I want you all to know that I love this man," Sen. Ida G. Ruben, a Montgomery County Democrat, said of Collins - named in May to a $97,344-a-year seat on the State Board of Contract Appeals. A few months later, his campaign fund gave Glendening's fund $6,000.

"You truly were the conscience of the Senate as chairman of the ethics committee," Sen. Donald F. Munson, a Hagerstown Republican, told Collins.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, lauded Sfikas - appointed to a $81,000 position on the Parole Commission in September - as an "incredibly great person."

"I don't know anyone in the Senate he wasn't friends with," said Stone. Sfikas, also a good friend of Glendening's, contributed $6,000 to the governor's campaign kitty about two months before his appointment.

Dewberry, named to a $101,000-a-year post as the state's chief administrative law judge, heard himself lauded as "Mr. Catonsville" by Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer.

"Tommy Dewberry was absolutely the right choice for the position," said Sen. George W. Della, a Baltimore Democrat. Glendening, who solicited a $5,000 contribution from Dewberry, apparently agreed.

None of the senators on the panel quizzed the nominees about the timing of the contributions. Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, referred to a report in The Sun last month about the gifts as "some of that other foolishness."

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, the chairman of the committee, said in an interview that he talked about the contributions with the nominees and was satisfied with their explanations.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller acknowledged that the nominations were rushed through before the inauguration so there would be no opportunity for Ehrlich to pull back the appointments.

Sfikas said after his hearing that he was confident there was no connection between the contribution and any of the appointments.

"The appearance certainly was terrible," the former city senator conceded.

Ehrlich says he'll say no to punishment by pen

As part of his promise to change the political atmosphere in Annapolis, Ehrlich said yesterday he will would forgo the use of one of Glendening's favorite methods of punishing recalcitrant legislators.

Glendening was known for his practice of vetoing certain bills because they were sponsored by lawmakers who had crossed him. In many cases, he would sign the identical bill cross-filed in the other chamber.

"I'm not interested in using bill-signings as tools," Ehrlich said at an inaugural luncheon for legislators yesterday. "I'll just sign both bills."

Slots aren't his thing, but he wants them anyway

Ehrlich will either be the governor who brings slot machines to Maryland, or the governor who spent a lot of political capital failing to do so. But does he play them?

As it happens, he does not. He's a craps man. He loves craps. The governor-elect said he limits his gambling to $1,500. He'll play three sets of craps, spending $500 at each sitting.

Slots, Ehrlich pointed out, require no strategy. They are devoid of the thrill of competition that so motivates the new governor. Also, he agreed, gamblers can lose a lot of money quickly playing slots.

Still, he is clearly set on bringing them here. Besides, they're the chosen casino gambling of another Ehrlich - his wife, Kendel.

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