Bail-out talks educate mayor

The Political Game

Schaefer: During last week's negotiations over state funding aid, the comptroller helped school Baltimore's Martin O'Malley in the fine arts of verbal jabbing and media sound bites.

March 02, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

THE EPICENTER for political excitement last week was the governor's conference room on the second floor of the State House, where city and state officials met repeatedly to discuss a Baltimore schools bail-out plan.

While Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. attended only a few minutes of the meetings, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer played an active role, at Ehrlich's request.

According to participants in the closed-door sessions, Schaefer used much of his time to prod, goad and belittle Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The barbs continued yesterday. Schaefer "is attacking the mayor as vehemently as he used to attack Parris Glendening," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who participated in yesterday's session.

The two have a touchy history. Schaefer, the former mayor, thinks O'Malley doesn't show him enough deference. O'Malley gets laughs by calling Schaefer his "mentor and tormentor," and the mayor's aides privately question Schaefer's relevance.

During a Wednesday session, Schaefer accused O'Malley of not caring about city schools. Asked about the comments later, the comptroller said that the mayor ducked the criticism by relying on his "silver tongue."

A day later, Schaefer reportedly told O'Malley that if the mayor was coming to Annapolis asking for money, he was in no position to make demands.

"He was not coming down to get money," Schaefer said on Thursday night. "He was dictating terms."

No doubt Schaefer lived by the same rule when he was running Baltimore in the 1970s and 1980s.

After listening to Schaefer upbraid him, O'Malley rushed out of Thursday night's meeting, sarcastically praising the comptroller's involvement.

"He came up with a great compromise, and he deserves a lot of credit," O'Malley said as he ran from the State House. "We're going with the governor's plan."

The last comment was picked up by television cameras - and came across as an endorsement of Ehrlich's idea that city schools be managed by a three-member panel with a majority appointed by the governor.

The next day, O'Malley realized his sarcasm had gotten him into trouble. The "governor" he meant to refer to was Schaefer, the mayor said, adding that he would not buy into any plan that gave up city control.

It now appears the governor is likely to submit his proposal for schools reform with or without the mayor's endorsement. So O'Malley might be taking some more licks on the floor of the House and Senate in the days ahead.

Ehrlich not shy about wanting the spotlight

After his nonstop stream of appearances on television and radio, Ehrlich doesn't seem like a politician in need of more time with the electronic media.

But last week, as the Board of Public Works meeting ended, the television cameras flocked not to the governor, but to the ex-governor, Schaefer.

As the comptroller answered questions about the city schools crisis and other issues, Ehrlich was stuck talking to just one member of the lowly print media. And he wasn't going to stand for it.

"Hey, I'm the governor. He's the ex-governor. Look at me," Ehrlich shouted out to the television crews, prompting at least one camera to wander over to his side of the room.

Big-screen strategy to find voters to guide

A family values group was hoping to capitalize on some box-office excitement to spread its political message over the weekend.

Before participating in last night's Annapolis March for Life, the Maryland Family Values Alliance was busy finishing its voters guide and endorsement list for today's primary election.

The candidates receiving endorsements, alliance director Bill Devens said in an e-mail last week, "were chosen for their family values, convictions and their electability, or in some cases as the least of evils."

The voters guide was available on the group's Web site ( Devens asked his supporters to print out 100 copies, and distribute them "where you think they might do the best good."

"Stand-alone theaters where the `Passion of Christ' is showing is one of those places," Devens said.

According to the group's site, the alliance aims for "the return and maintenance of traditional family values at the national, state and local levels."

Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this column.

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