In Md., Waiting for Schaefer
Political Theater Shaping Up on Public Works Board
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 13, 1998; Page B01
The general election is more than four months away, but all across Maryland this weekend, politicos -- granted, most of them Democrats -- were talking about what a great show it will be when former governor William Donald Schaefer sits down at a Board of Public Works meeting next year as state comptroller.
Never mind that Schaefer has yet to win his party's nomination in September, much less defeat a Republican in November. The juices were flowing at the prospect of the theatrical two-term governor sharing an equal seat on the state's most powerful board with his sometime friend, sometime foe Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- who has his own election battles to fight.
"I like this room," Schaefer quipped Thursday as he looked around the ornate governor's reception room at the State House in Annapolis, where his portrait adorns a wall.
Earlier, Glendening had announced that his first choice for the job, former Montgomery County congressman Michael D. Barnes, was withdrawing in the face of an outpouring of support for Schaefer's late-breaking candidacy (he filed 90 minutes before last Monday night's deadline).
By week's end, Schaefer, who assured Glendening that "we're going to have one governor . . . not two," had muscled most of the other remaining Democratic competitors to the sidelines, too.
Glendening tried to put the best face on his surrender to Schaefer's power play, saying, "It's going to be an interesting four years."
While paying homage to Schaefer as "a character," Glendening pointed out that "Louie [Goldstein] was a character, too. We're switching from one interesting personality to another."
Several political insiders observed that had Barnes, who had been Glendening's campaign chairman, been elected, the governor -- if reelected -- effectively would have controlled two of the three spots on the public works board.
No one expects that to happen if Schaefer wins.
"I'm thrilled," said state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, whose office entitles him to the third spot on the board, which awards state contracts for $4 billion worth of goods and services annually.
"I'm more attuned" to Schaefer than to Glendening, added Dixon, a legislative appointee who could tip the balance to Schaefer in contested decisions.
Dixon said he became a fan of Schaefer's during the 26 years he worked as a stockbroker in downtown Baltimore and "saw the transformation of the city" that occurred when Schaefer was mayor.
A Schaefer victory will present "a fertile opportunity for alliances between the treasurer, who is the legislature's representative, and a very independent comptroller, a situation that would not exist if Barnes were there," said Scott Livingston, a Baltimore lawyer who represents companies that do business with the state, including the lottery contractor.
"Schaefer's commitment to public service will eliminate the prospect of people seeking unfair advantage in big state procurements," Livingston said. "I'm not saying Glendening countenances that, but Schaefer will be vigilant."
Livingston said the comptroller's job, which he called the second most important in state government, offers "a huge platform" for Schaefer, whom he expects will take advantage of the twice-a-month "opportunity to shine."
The governor chairs the board's twice-monthly meetings, but because he has so many other duties, he seldom attends the pre-board sessions at which department heads outline their desires and would-be contractors make their pitches to the comptroller and treasurer.
"I feel almost reborn," House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) said of Schaefer's emergence as the front-runner for the post, whose duties also include tax collecting.
Taylor, who spent Friday with Schaefer at a charity golf tournament and auction in Frostburg -- where each of them fetched the top price of $1,000 to serve as a caddy for participants -- said "the purpose of the comptroller is to be an independent fiscal voice, and that's what former governor Schaefer will be."
Former Prince George's County legislator Timothy Maloney said he expects that if Schaefer is elected, he will redefine and expand the role of comptroller.
Maloney said that state bureaucrats who were accustomed to hearing Goldstein ask, "How much will this cost?" will have to hear Schaefer ask, "Does this make sense?" "Schaefer can smell BS a mile away," so the bureaucrats had better be well prepared to defend their requests, Maloney said.
Maloney also predicts that Schaefer will "bring new meaning to the words 'ex officio' " by taking an active role in the comptroller's honorary roles, including a seat on the University of Maryland's Board of Regents.
Larry Shulman, a Montgomery County lawyer who chaired a task force that recommended ways to make the board more efficient, said Schaefer "won't have a learning curve that others would require."
He said he also expects Schaefer would be "friendlier" to Maryland contractors who bid on state projects.
Although Schaefer's popularity had dwindled by the time he left the governor's mansion in early 1995, many former foes appear ready to back him in his bid for a last hurrah.
For example, a man he beat in the Democratic primary for governor in 1986, former state attorney general Stephen H. Sachs, will introduce him at a Baltimore rally today.
A Republican candidate for comptroller said he welcomes the candidacy of Schaefer, 76, but for a different reason -- so he can beat him.
"It's time for a new generation of leaders," said Michael Steele, 39, who is legal counsel to the company that owns Potomac Mills Mall. "We don't need a return to the same old policies of Schaefer and Glendening."
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