Ehrlich respects his elders, especially the good ol' boys

High-paying jobs for good ol' boys

January 22, 2004|By Dan Rodricks

I GUESS BOBBY Governor's next big announcement will be that he's bringing Joe Staszak (see note at the end of this column) back from the dead to serve as racino commissioner. I like what I've been seeing in the Ehrlich administration -- giving the old guys another round. It's like they're dispensing political Viagra on State Circle.

Our governor is young, he's dynamic, he has virtually no sideburns, and he's very respectful of the elderly, particularly the been-there-done-that pols who were hot when Mandel was governor.

Speaking of Mandel: Marvelous Marvin is now on the University of Maryland Board of Regents. He has quite a resume, including 19 months in federal prison for a mail fraud conviction (later overturned on a technicality).

When running for office in 2002, Bobby Governor said he wanted to end the culture of corruption in Annapolis. And what does he do? He appoints an octogenarian, scandal-tarnished former governor to a prestigious board that oversees the state's vast university system.

George Bush has No Child Left Behind. Bob Ehrlich has No Old Pol Left Behind.

Now the governor has hired Paul Weisengoff, a 71-year-old former state delegate from the good old days of Mandel and his racetrack cronies, to help his administration persuade the General Assembly to allow something like a billion slot machines all over Maryland, as long as they're almost all at racetracks, especially the ones that paid Weisengoff to lobby for them for years.

You got that?

Essentially, the governor, with taxpayer money, is picking up Weisengoff's lobbying tab on behalf of the racetracks. It's like Weisengoff was released on waivers by Joe De Francis, the racetrack executive with the fabulous hair, and Bobby Governor picked him up -- $28,000 for the 90-day legislative session.

"It's a cut in salary from what I was getting from Joe," Weisengoff said the other day.

(Hey, it's OK, Paul: Rafael Palmeiro isn't going to make in Baltimore what the Rangers paid him last season, either.)

I know how this looks, my friends. It looks like the governor is a little too chummy with racing interests that want racinos here.

But maybe the guy can't help himself. Maybe he's too nice, or he's hopelessly nostalgic. Maybe it's just Bobby's Way.

A few months ago, he suggested that another senior citizen, William Donald Schaefer, already state comptroller, be appointed to the board of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

What can I say? The governor respects his elders.

He also seems to have a soft spot for the has-been.

Last year, after only a month in office, Ehrlich gave Clarence Mitchell IV, the former state senator, a $92,000-a-year job at a time when the state was facing a huge budget pinch.

What a generous, restorative gesture by Ehrlich.

Only a month earlier, C4 had filed for bankruptcy, listing assets of $50,000 and debt of about $500,000.

A few months before that, he lost his bid for re-election. Before that, he was reprimanded by the state Senate for a breach of ethics.

But along came the new Republican governor to give this down-and-out Democrat the chance to run some dubious new agency called the Office of Urban Development.

Unfortunately, the job only lasted two weeks -- Mitchell was forced to resign after criticism of his appointment -- but it's the thought that counts.

And there was another guy with a bumpy track record, once-formidable lobbyist Bruce Bereano (mail fraud conviction, 1994; state ethics law violation, 2001), who was a strong Ehrlich supporter and a fixture in his gubernatorial campaign. There has been some distancing between Bereano and Ehrlich since then, but it shows that, at least for a while, Bobby Governor was willing to look past a few flaws to help a guy rebuild his reputation and -- as Sinatra used to sing -- pick himself up and get back in the race.

I know, my friends. It's tempting to be cynical. It's tempting to think that Ehrlich is just making bad choices, or paying off political debts, or that he's a soft touch for every pol who hits him up for a little job here and a little job there.

You might be inclined to conclude that, while he represents a new breed of young Republicans in a state dominated by Democrats, Ehrlich can't find anyone new and refreshing to bring to Annapolis and face the lions.

Think what you like. See what you like.

I see a young governor with limited sideburns and evolving political sensibilities. Gone is the hard-nosed Gingrich brat the media made him out to be back when he first went to Congress and signed the Contract With America.

Bobby Governor is nice to the ole b'hoys and has-beens: That's your compassionate conservatism right there.

Joe Staszak was a state senator from Baltimore. Once, when asked if his bill to boost sales of package goods in taverns presented a conflict of interest with his ownership of Joe's Tavern on Dundalk Avenue, Big Joe said: "Conflict of interest? How does that conflict with my interest?"

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