The Washington Post incorrectly reported in its Wednesday's editions that Acting Gov. Blair Lee III was a member of the Maryland Board of Public Works in March, 1977 when it initially refused to award a $25 million contract to a firm recommended by the state Department of Transportation. Lee was not on the board when the original award was considered.
In his law office atop the beaux arts Maryland National Bank Building in Baltimore, Harry Hughes sat fiddling with an envelope opener. He was discussing the issues of the Maryland gubernatorial race, in details few of his fellow-candidates find necessary.
Property taxes, the bureaucracy, economic development, corruption - Hughes handled all the themes the same way, at length. His answers cannot be filled easily into slogans. For instance, Hughes said he wanted to eliminate property taxes on homes only if a new formula could be devised for helping local governments earn more than the state income tax.
"I only have a concept, not an overall answer. But that's how you start to solve problems," he explained.
Then Hughes paused. Because of his attention to details he said, he has been called boring, a gray candidate lost in the field with his four Democrat opponents. At first, Hughes said, he thought it amusing that his worst fault was this alleged dullness. Now he is angry.
"Maybe I'm getting a little thin-skinned, but I don't understand why this happened," he said. For Hughes has discovered that being viewed as being boring is equated as being a loser. The monied of Maryland just do not make contributions to a gubernatorial candidate who does not appear to be winning.
"Frankly, the only problem I have is money but it's a big problem," he continued. "I'm assessing what my options are. I could stay in, drop out or become a lieutenant governor candidate on someone else's ticket."
Up the streeth from his law firm is the campaign storefront office of Attorney General Francis B. Burch. Two blocks away is the campaign headquarters of Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis. Both men have met with Hughes in the past three days and asked him to consider becoming their running mate.
If only he had not been tagged a boring candidate, Hughes believes, things might have been different.
Dullness is an odd charge for Hughes to face since he is the only Maryland official who, during the entire era of political scandals, dramatically resigned from office as a protest against alleged corruption.
Last year, as construction executives were seeking to win the $25 million consulting contract for the Baltimore subway, Hughes was the state's secretary of transportation.
Then, the Board of Public Works - a panel made up of Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer William S. James - threw out the guidelines and initially awarded the contact to a firm deemed the least qualified by Hughes' department, under guidelines set up years before to avoid favoritism.
Where he heard of the award, Hughes, the quiet Eastern Shore Democrat, stunned his colleagues and resigned over what he called "tampering with the system."
"I either had to acquiesce and go against all I had fought for, or quit. I had no choice," Hughes said then. So he left the department he had headed since its inception in 1971, a department that had become a super-agency, charged with overseeing tens of millions of dollars in federal and state funds used for the construction of highways, subways, bridges and airports.
It was also the department that regularly received subpeonas from the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore during the criminal investigations of then Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and Dale Anderson, Agnew's successor as Baltimore County executive.
"They all talk about corruption, but I'm the only one who put my job on the line," Hughes said recently. "There was the other guy just feet away from Mandel's office throughout and you didn't hear a word out of him."
The "other guy" is Acting Gov. Lee, suspended Governor Marvin Mandel's lieutenant governor for seven years and now one of the leading candidates in the gubernatorial race. Lee, Baltimore County Executive Venetoulis, Maryland Attorney General Burch and Baltimore City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky are all in the running with Hughes for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Hughes points out that all the others are office holders, with all the campaign benefits that implies.
Hughes believes that his resignation in May 1977 is now, strangely, one of the biggest strikes against him. "I can't hold press conferences in the guise of making policy statements like they do, I don't have an official's staff to work for me, follow the issues, make the right phone calls. I'm a private citizen trying to run for governor and that is difficult."
Hughes lured fewer than 500 Marylanders to his June fund-raiser. Altogether he has raised less than $150,000. His budget for television commercials is around $50,000. Lee plans to spend $500,000 for a television "saturation" campaign. Hughes does not like to talk money: "I don't like to get into the game of how much you have."
"What a voter wants out of a candidate is different from what a citizen wants from a governor," contended Joseph Coale, Hughes's manager and a stock broker. "Harry isn't comfortable grandstanding or glad-handling on street corners. If we tried to tamper with him he'd become stiff, uncomfortable."
Yet, Coale has been encouraging Hughes "to take off his gloves" and become angry. "He was overwhelmingly reelected (to the legislature) time after time on the Eastern Shore even though he expounded views more liberal than the voters. I don't see any reason to change him just because he's a statewide candidate."
So, as Hughes goes from bullroast to coffee klatches to candidate forums, Hughes plays for the voters the two themes he most considers his own: the need for doing away with political power brokers and for streamlining the state government and economy.
On political power brokerage, one of Hughes' favorite targets is Lee. "As far as I can tell it's business as usual with the Lee-Hoyer tie-up," Hughes said. "That was political manuevering . . . They promised the Senate presidency and the speaker of the House of Delegates to Baltimore City in return for the organization's support. That's an insult to the legislature."