Duncan's campaign gets all cranked up

October 23, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

Doug Duncan leads off with endorsements of William Donald Schaefer, the Maryland State Crank given to verbalizing any foolish or ignorant thought that pops into his head, and Kurt Schmoke, the nice man who sat on his hands through three terms as mayor of Baltimore while the city suffered record population decline and criminal violence.

Great stuff, Doug. Whom do you bring out next: the popular and successful owner of the Orioles?

How about the former police commissioners who despise Martin O'Malley? I'm sure they're available for endorsements, too. What's Kevin Clark doing these days?

It's great that Duncan, the Montgomery County executive, will be challenging O'Malley for the Democratic nomination for governor. They're both appealing candidates, and it's good for our wobbly democratic process to have a real primary.

I've heard people say that Duncan deserves to be taken seriously, and I was all over that -- until I saw him clutching hands with Schaefer and Schmoke.

It's nothing short of amazing that Duncan got Schmoke and Schaefer to join him for the same photo op.

But, excuse me, I don't see how this elevates Duncan's candidacy in the Baltimore voter market.

Schaefer's support of Duncan is based on Schaefer's dislike of O'Malley, which is a form of dislike very similar to the strain that infected Schaefer back when Kurt Schmoke was mayor.

Schaefer disliked Schmoke, and not just because Schmoke had supported Schaefer's primary opponent, Steve Sachs, in the 1986 gubernatorial election. He disliked Schmoke because Schmoke was Rhodes scholar-bright, interesting and promising, and people made a fuss over him.

Schaefer didn't like anyone making a fuss over anyone but him. As governor, he skipped Schmoke's mayoral inaugural in 1987, and the relationship got worse after that.

For years, Schaefer grumbled about how Schmoke was ruining Baltimore, and Schmoke's defenders countered that Schaefer, despite his press clippings, had left the city in a mess.

O'Malley came along in 1999. He quickly upstaged Schmoke -- it didn't take much -- and committed some slight -- it didn't take much -- against Schaefer. By late-summer 2000, Schaefer was whining about O'Malley ignoring him.

So, five years later, with the 2006 gubernatorial campaign taking shape, here we have Doug Duncan holding hands with Schaefer and Schmoke, giving them a chance for a little personal payback.

I'll concede a possible political gain for Duncan from a Schaefer endorsement.

Schaefer might help him with the so-called Reagan Democrats, conservatives who cross over to vote for a Republican candidate in a general election. After all, Schaefer is hardly a loyal Democrat. He endorsed First Bush over Bill Clinton in 1992, back during Schaefer's final, dark years as governor, when he had pretty much alienated everyone in the state and went into a prolonged pout. And, of course, Schaefer is a big fan of the Republican governor of Maryland, Bob Ehrlich -- even more so since last year, when Ehrlich defended Schaefer after his cranky complaint about immigrants who work in fast-food restaurants. ("Multicultural crap.")

I'm sure there are a lot of people who agree with the 83-year-old state comptroller that we are being overrun with people who no-speaky the English, or that we need a public registry of people with AIDS because they pose a danger to society.

But are these the people Doug Duncan wants as supporters? Do his liberal backers in Montgomery County know about this?

There was a time when what William Donald Schaefer said and did mattered, when he was one of the most inspiring and entertaining politicians in the country. And there are Baltimoreans above ground who still regard him as the greatest mayor ever. But at this point, most of us pay attention to his goofy outbursts only because he still holds public office. For the most part, Schaefer's opinions have been rendered irrelevant by his mean-spirited comments and antics. Who cares anymore?

Besides, Schaefer has that political split personality disorder. Duncan might have him in his corner now, but can he count on him in a general election against Ehrlich?

Then there's Schmoke.

He might genuinely like Doug Duncan, but he's no fan of Martin O'Malley.

It was O'Malley, the cocksure Baltimore city councilman, who criticized the Schmoke administration, particularly its ineffective law enforcement efforts. O'Malley publicly challenged Schmoke's police commissioner, Thomas Frazier, during a time when the city's homicide numbers reached consistently over the 300-per-year mark. It was O'Malley who ran for mayor, promising to bring new energy and passion to City Hall after years of surrender to crime, population decline and failing schools.

By almost every measure, O'Malley in five years as mayor has been twice as effective as Schmoke was in 12, and he's presiding over a second renaissance that eclipses the one that occurred during Schaefer's watch.

In some respect, O'Malley's election as governor would validate these things. So if you are a former mayor -- one whose accomplishments have faded with age or one whose tenure is regarded as a major disappointment -- you can't have that. This campaign won't be getting personal. It already is.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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