Weeks of occasional discussions marked by mutual flattery gave way to the first sign of hard bargaining May 22 in the Maryland Governor's Mansion where Acting Gov. Blair Lee III and State Senate President Steny H. Hoyer sat alone over a breakfast of scrambled eggs.
The discussions started in a general vein as they had at previous meetings of the two competing gubernatorial candidates until Hoyer posed a specific question: would Lee run for a second term if he were elected governor this year?
Lee did not commit himself at the breakfast session, but responded within a day through a network of intermediaries. Under no circumstances, he said, would he commit himself to a single term in office as a condition for having Hoyer join his ticket.
The next time Lee and Hoyer met, their positions were clear. The mating game was over, and they began working out the final details that led to yesterday's announcement that Hoyer would give up his gubernatorical candidacy to join Lee's ticket as candidate for lieutenant governor.
"It was just a matter of waiting for Steny to go through his death dance," recalled one Lee aide. "He was having a hard time sitting down and relinquishing his gubernatorial claim. All that Young Democrats zeal was coming out for almost two years."
The political marriage of Hoyer and Lee was consumated with a handshake Monday afternoon in the acting governor's office after weeks of negotiations that at times had all the makings of peace treaty talks between warring nations.
Until that breakfast meeting across the governor's banquet-sized, mahogany table, the talks were couched in broad, diplomatic tones. Each side noted the mutual benefits of a joint ticket, but no one spoke in specific terms.
As the agreement reached its final stages, the two principals dwelled on such minutiae as Hoyer's right to an office in the Baltimore state office complex and whether members of Hoyer's campaign staff would be guaranteed a place in the administration.
"We started out rather distant and got more cordial as time went on," Lee said in an interview yesterday, "Steny was obviously going through the process of what to do and wanted to know what I had to offer."
The final agreement included "a fairly good understanding . . . that (Steny) would be the dominate voice" in parceling out patronage to his Prince George's County, Lee said, while noting that he reserved the right to "look out for some of my old friends there."
Throughout the negotiations, Lee and Hoyer relied on intermediaries to set up negotiating sessions for the two candidates. After several of the meetings, the go-betweens met together to interpret the positions of the principals and look for common ground.
On one evening two weeks ago, Lee's chief intermediary, Maurice Wyatt, buttonholed Hoyer at a Baltimore fundraiser and brought him into a restroom to discuss the ticket. While they talked, Hoyer missed his opportunity to address the gathering.
"The thing operated on two levels all along," Lee said. "I had my man, Mr. Wyatt, and he had his man, Mr. O'Malley." Peter F. O'Malley, the Prince George's attorney and Hoyer confidante, was active throughout the talks, Lee said.
Sitting behind his desk in the governor's office, a relaxed and jovial Lee said one of the benefits of his merger with Hoyer was a close relationship with O'Malley. "I had four calls today from my new friend, Peter O'Malley," he boasted.
One of the areas that took up much of the negotiating sessions, according to Lee, was the question of Hoyers role as a lieutenant governor in a Lee administration. Lee served in that job under suspended Gov. Marvin Mandel for seven years.
Hoyer said in an interview that Lee promised him a "broad and major role" in working with the General Assembly, reassuring Hoyer that "he knew better than anyone" the problems of serving as the backup official to the governor.
Lee, who had a cool relationship with Hoyer during the recent legislative session when both men were jockeying for position as gubernatorial opponents, was asked in the interview if he liked his new designee for lieutenant governor.
"I liked him when we both served in the Senate, back in 1967 or 1968," Lee said after a 10-second pause. "His track record is, once he's made a commitment, he's a good team player, which is something you appreciate in this business."