Session is no piece of cake

Schaefer's hot words spoil Ehrlich offering

Maryland Votes 2006

September 21, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

At yesterday's Board of Public Works meeting, the first since Comptroller William Donald Schaefer lost the Democratic primary, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was planning the same kind of pick-me-up he had employed time and again to stay on his ally's good side: a freshly baked cake from the Government House kitchen.

One of the governor's aides stood in the wings at the start of the meeting, holding a plastic-wrapped pound cake (the chef's grandmother's recipe) with a yellow bow on top.

But Schaefer's opening comments blasted the governor and his staff for not taking responsibility for the voting problems in the primary election and blaming them on state Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone.

"The easiest thing in the world to do is point fingers," Schaefer said. "For some time, the administration could have taken some steps to resolve the problem. Now they point to the fall guys."

The aide turned on her heels. Within seconds, the cake was gone.

Schaefer, the former Baltimore mayor and governor, has been a man estranged from his party for some time. Many top Democrats expected that if he lost the primary, he would immediately throw his weight behind Ehrlich. But Schaefer proved once again that the only thing predictable about him is that he's unpredictable, especially at the Board of Public Works.

Elected comptroller in 1998, Schaefer has relished the spotlight the board gives him. Ever since Schaefer started using the meetings to upbraid his nemesis, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the comptroller's opening monologues have been must-attend events, turning the reception room where the meetings are held into a standing-room-only forest of television cameras. When he stops talking, the room empties out.

But it has also been the site of his undoing. It was where he insulted immigrants, minorities, AIDS patients and South Koreans, and where he commanded a young aide to the governor to "walk again" after she brought him tea so that he could admire her backside.

In the months before the primary, Schaefer's aides, never sure if the boss might say something to ruin his career, approached each bi-monthly board meeting with as much enthusiasm as another round of Russian roulette. They managed to muzzle him for the past few meetings, but the damage was done.

Making matters worse, Schaefer unleashed a series of insults on the campaign trail against one of his opponents, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens. In the end, it was the candidate who was largely outside the slugfest, Del. Peter Franchot of Montgomery County, who won the primary race.

Ehrlich asked that no Republican enter the contest, hoping to give Schaefer a clear shot at re-election. Several ignored him, and Franchot will face Anne M. McCarthy, a former dean of the University of Baltimore business school, in the general election.

Schaefer had nice things to say about Franchot yesterday.

"The only thing I'm glad of is Franchot won," Schaefer said. "I'm glad the woman [Owens] didn't win because I'm not fond of her."

But he didn't have much nice to say about Ehrlich.

"This election was pretty bad," Schaefer said. "Responsibility is with the head, not with somebody else saying, `You didn't do this, you didn't do that.'"

At about this point, Ehrlich's chief of staff, James C. "Chip" DiPaula Jr., came over and whispered something in the governor's ear. Ehrlich, sitting immediately to Schaefer's left, grimaced and fixed his gaze downward on the papers in front of him.

"You shuffle your papers, and I'll shuffle mine, too," Schaefer said, making an exaggerated show of imitating the governor. "And maybe all the problems with how the election was handled will be over."

Schaefer saved more barbs for the governor's top staff, several of whom were standing in the corner of the room - where the cake used to be - looking like they were concealing snickers.

"Miss Lamone and I were never friends, and we aren't now, but to pick on her as failing at this election is not right," he said to the staff members - including Schaefer's one-time chief of staff, Paul Schurick, who is Ehrlich's communications chief. "Happy, boys? Did you do anything to help this election? The answer is no."

The Sun, for the record, didn't escape the disdain of the man once dubbed "Mayor Annoyed," either.

"I don't leave happy because I've never had such a biased newspaper in my life," Schaefer said.

The only person besides Franchot who rated a positive mention in Schaefer's invective was his fellow Democrat on the Board of Public Works, Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp of Montgomery County.

"This is the darkest, stinkingest game I've ever known," Schaefer said. "Nobody is immune to stabbing you in the back, except Nancy. She's the only one I know here who was never a back-stabber."

Despite the digs at Ehrlich, the comptroller's tirade failed to answer one major question on the minds of Maryland political insiders: Will Schaefer follow through on his promise to support the Democratic ticket this fall?

The comptroller has long expressed dislike for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. Under pressure to please Democratic primary voters, Schaefer pledged to support the party's choice but never endorsed O'Malley by name.

So, given his diatribe against the governor (and some suggestions on the way out of the State House about where Ehrlich or his staffers might put that disappearing cake), is the comptroller going to endorse Ehrlich or O'Malley?

"Yes," Schaefer said.

Is he going to answer the question?

"No, I'm not. I've got too many goddamn people listening to what I'm saying," he said. "I've got to be careful."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.