Maryland Attorney General Francis (Bill) Burch, who has channeled more than $400,000 in state legal work to business partners, friends, past campaign donors and political figures, pledged yesterday to make the spoils system "obsolete" if he is elected governor this fall.
"So, Mr. Politician, be put on notice," Burch warned at two press conferences. "No patronage. No jobs for your boys in return for your support. I won't have politicians telling me who to appoint. I won't make deals that tie my hands and sell the people short."
He said he does not see a conflict between this campaign promise and his award of $420,000 in title-searching fees from 1974 to 1977 to state legislators, personal friends and business associates, including many who have helped raise funds for his campaign.
"If I eliminated everybody that was my friend, I'd have eliminated everybody my enemies," explained Burch, who during his 11 years in office also awarded $125,000 in bond counsel work to a Baltimore law firm headed by two of his closest friends. The work was not patronage, he stressed, because the firm had received similar fees under previous attorneys general. He also said he did not know most of the lawyers who received title-searching fees from his office.
Burch, 59, who has adopted a campaign strategy of attacking many of the special interests who are traditionally accorded special respect in an election year, added "political bosses" and patronage to his growing list of targets yesterday.
To dramatize his position, he held his news conferences near the Upper Marlboro law office of Prince George's political leader Peter F. O'Malley, and in front of the Baltimore political clubhouse once ruled by the late political boss, James H. (Jack) Pollack.
Moving a band of reporters across the road from O'Malley's office to avoid trespassing, Burch called him "the political boss of Prince George's" who helped put together the "deal" in which O'Malley's close friend, Senate President Steny H. Hoyer, gave up his gubernatorial candidacy to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Acting Gov. Blair Lee III.
O'Malley was not in his office during Burch's news conference and could not be reached for comment. Although he participated in some of the talks that resulted in the Lee-Hoyer merger, he has palyed a low-key role in the campaign thus far.
Burch, who made a determined effort to get Hoyer as a running mate for his ticket, was especilly critical of Lee's commitment to allow his lieutenant governor to control patronage in Prince George's. "I would not discuss political deals with Steny," he said.
"I have not made or tried to make a single deal during this campaign with any group or any politician," Burch said. "And I won't. If that's the price I have to pay to be governor, then I don't want the job. I won't barter away the state for this election.
During his first press conference in front of the late Pollack's Trenton Democratic Club in northwest Baltimore, Burch pointed his finger at the aging stone row house and said, "This is the epitome of political bosses and political deals."
"I'm not making any deals with anybody," said Morton H. Pollack, who took over control of the club after his father died last year. "Burch is just looking for publicity because his campaign is sagging fast."
Burch, who ran twice as attorney general on the ticket headed by now-suspended Gov. Marvin Mandel and backed by Pollack's and O'Malley's organizations, denounced political machines and declared he would not use patronage as "bargaining chips with the political bosses."
Acknowledging that few political organizations would have endorsed him regardless of yesterday's campaign pledge, he said, "The politicians of Maryland look at Bill Burch as a person they can't do business with. They don't like me because they can't get patronage from me."
Frank A. DeFilippo, former chief of staff for Mandel and media consultant for Lee, called Burch's remarks "hypocritical garbage. When you can't get anyone else to support you, you become an independent. He's played the game like all the rest of us."
While scoring political bosses in front of Pollack's old clubhouse, Burch received an unexpected pat on the back. In the middle of his statement, a middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache and a black beret began clapping and praising the attorney general.
The man, who identified himself as Samuel Zuskin, the Trenton club's sergeant-at-arms, said, "I'm an officer of the club and we're going to doour best to put you in office. This man's up and aboveboard."