For the past three months, Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes has been campaigning for reelection. State Sen. Harry J. McGuirk of Baltimore and Anne Arundel County Executive Robert A. Pascal, the first a Democrat, the latter a Republican, have been campaigning against him, trying to get his job.
No mystery here, no questions, just a political campaign.
But there has been another campaign going on, one that no one can quite figure out. It is Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer's peek-a-boo campaign that is not quite anti-Hughes and not quite pro-McGuirk or pro-Pascal -- yet close to being all three. Exactly why the mayor is playing this version of political Russian roulette no one knows. If his goal was to annoy Hughes and his people, then the campaign has been a success. But if Hughes is reelected, Schaefer may find next winter a bit less enjoyable than this summer.
It started in May, at the Preakness. The annual horse race is as much a time for politicians to gather as it is a sporting event, especially in an election year.
At one end of the stretch sat Hughes, looking like a movie star in a maroon jacket and sunglasses, comfortably ensconced in a front row box. A quarter mile away, at the finish line, was Schaefer, sharing a box with one of the few men who is friendly with both the mayor and the governor, Crown Central Petroleum board chairman Henry Rosenberg.
This was three days before Hughes formally announced he would run for reelection. A three-stop media day was planned, including a tour of Schaefer's pride and joy, Harborplace.
Would Schaefer be there to greet the governor?
For a political pro like Schaefer, the question would have been easy to duck. His frosty relationship with Hughes was hardly news, but for the sake of political expediency one would have expected an answer like, "I'd like to be there but I had committed myself previously."
Not Schaefer. "I'll be away," he said, " -- far, far away." The emphatic tone left no doubt about what he was saying: take a hike, Harry Hughes.
Since then, Schaefer has metaphorically repeated those words time and again. First he showed up at Pascal's headquarters opening in the city to say that Pascal was a good man who understood the problems of the city of Baltimore.
Did the mayor think the governor understood the problems of the city? "I am but a visitor and a pilgrim here, heaven is my home," was the non-answer. Translated into English it meant, you guessed it: take a hike, Harry.
Schaefer has continued his act all summer. He appeared at McGuirk's fund-raiser in June and gave a glowing speech about McGuirk's abilities. He popped in for a 90-second appearance when McGuirk opened his headquarters in the city.
Whether it's a McGuirk or Pascal event, each time the routine is the same. The mayor sweeps in with great bravura, shakes some hands, delivers his little speech and disappears, the press lapping at his heels asking the same question: Is this an endorsement?
Schaefer has ducked the question differently each time. Once, he used intimidation, demanding angrily to know why he had to put up with such questioning just because he, a Democrat, happened to wander into an event promoting a Republican opponent to the Democratic governor.
Each time Schaefer has taken his show into the camp of one of Hughes' opponents, Hughes has been asked how he feels about it. The governor has gone out of his way to be diplomatic, pointing out that Schaefer is friendly with McGuirk and with Pascal, so, as mayor, it makes sense for him to appear with them when they are in Baltimore.
But Schaefer appeared with McGuirk in Baltimore County. And, on several occasions, he has not appeared with the governor in the city.
Privately, Hughes staffers are seething. They know that their boss and the mayor are never going to be close; in fact, they were prepared for Hughes not to be endorsed by Schaefer. But the gamesmanship is unfathomable to them.
McGuirk has said all summer that Schaefer will be behind him in the crunch. So far, Schaefer has only stood next to him. Pascal says he understands why his friend can't endorse a Republican but that Schaefer will work quietly for him in the fall. Hughes says he expects the mayor to support the Democratic nominee. Schaefer continues to say nothing.
What is happening here is fairly apparent: McGuirk and Pascal have played the game Schaefer's way, going out of their way to sing his praises time and again. Hughes, for his part, thinks being responsive to the city's problems as governor should be enough and that he doesn't need to lick the mayor's boots in public just because that seems to be the "in thing" to do.
Schaefer likes to have his boots licked, but even more than that, he likes attention. As long as he keeps playing his "I-like-you-but-I-won't-endorse-you" game with Hughes' opponents, he'll get plenty of attention. The media will keep coming round to ask the questions again and again and you can be sure that, once the primary is over, Pascal will all but nominate Schaefer for sainthood to keep hizzoner happy.
What all this will mean next January if Hughes is reelected is unclear. As a second-term governor who, under state law, cannot run for reelection, Hughes will have little use for the mayor politically. It is unlikely that he will try to get even with Schaefer by not being supportive of the city, especially with State Sen. J. Joseph Curran Jr. of Baltimore as lieutenant governor.
What may happen is something a bit more subtle. When Hughes has a chance to help Baltimore -- and exclude Schaefer from receiving credit -- bet that it will happen that way. One might also bet that the governor's staff, which has tried on several occasions to make peace between the two men, won't be bothered any longer.
When Schaefer's staff sends communiques to Hughes' staff, Schaefer sometimes writes little notes at the bottom that say things like, "The poor are still here," to remind those in Annapolis of the plight of the city. One Hughes staffer took to sending back notes that said, "The sensitive are still here."
Next January, if Hughes is still governor, the message from the State House to city hall may be different. It may read more like, "Take a hike, Don."