Soon after the September primary, Montgomery County school board member Carol Wallace got a call from Marshall (Mickey) Greenblatt asking what he could do to help with her general election campaign for reelection.
Wallace's answer was quick and resolute: Stay away, she told the man who was the master strategist behind her election victory in 1978 and who is the husband of Marian Greenblatt, leader of the conservative board majority of which Wallace is a member.
The consistent theme throughout Wallace's campaign this year has been, as she said at a recent candidates forum, "I am not Carol Wallace Greenblatt, Inc. I am Carol F. Wallace, independent."
Yet everyone except Wallace seems to be trying to link the two: The opposing liberal slate because it believes anti-Greenblatt sentiment is high, and conservatives because a Wallace defeat would mean the end of the five-member coalition that has controlled board policy for most of the past four years.
Only two of the conservatives' five seats, those belonging to Greenblatt and Suzanne Peyser, are guaranteed after Tuesday's election. To retain control over the next board, incumbents Wallace and Joseph Barse, who fared poorly in the primary, must win. Wallace finished sixth and Barse fifth in a field of 15 in the primary election.
The biggest obstacle for the conservative bloc comes from a well-organized political action committee, EDPAC, whose four candidates were the top vote-getters in the September primary. And, finally, the conservative alliance is plagued by the lingering personality dispute between Greenblatt and Wallace.
When EDPAC was formed, its then-campaign spokesman announced that "in terms of theory, we are running against Marian Greenblatt's people and her process."
Greenblatt has led a back-to-basics movement in the 92,000-pupil school system, beginning with firing a superintendent she described as permissive. But it has been her views on racial policy, including preservation of neighborhood schools and opposition to busing for integration, and a leadership style often described as strident, on which her critics have focused.
The four EDPAC candidates, who would be expected to line up with board member Blair Ewing, the most vitriolic of Greenblatt's critics, have since toned down those diatribes, attempting to portray themselves as advocates of sound, traditional education and supporters of equal opportunities in education. The two self-styled moderate candidates also have been vocal about their dislike for Greenblatt's style and her attitude toward minority relations.
In an effort to regain momentum, the conservative incumbents recently launched a counter-offensive. It stresses their unity, while keeping Greenblatt in the background after her abortive try for the Republican nomination to Congress. And it attempts to shift the focus of the campaign onto the EDPAC slate.
Two political action committees were formed to support Wallace and Barse as well as two independent candidates, Barry Klein and Tim O'Shea. But O'Shea and Klein, both of whom sought endorsements from EDPAC, immediately tried to disassociate themselves from the new committees. And Wallace called a press conference this week to say she knew nothing about the two groups before they appeared.
Retiring board president Eleanor Zappone, a philosophical ally but personal foe of Wallace, has hooked up as chairperson of one of the committees and cautiously endorsed Wallace, even though she has said she does not know if she will vote for Wallace. Barse made overtures to run on a slate with Wallace, but she declined, saying she might have considered the pairing if Greenblatt were not involved.
This back-door endorsing, however, does not please Wallace.
"I want to talk about Carol Wallace. We keep talking about Marian Greenblatt. I'm sick of talking about Marian Greenblatt. Marian Greenblatt is not running in the race. Carol F. Wallace is running. Carol F. Wallace has her own record. Carol F. Wallace has her own accomplishments. Carol F. Wallace wants to talk about Carol F. Wallace," said Wallace.
Critics of the board, however, find Wallace's attempts to separate herself from Greenblatt perplexing. The two vote similarly on most issues, and on most votes involving minority relations, one of the controversial issues in the campaign, the two usually vote together. Wallace introduced the proposal to abolish the Minority Relations Monitoring Committee and voted to close Rosemary Hills Elementary School, a symbol of voluntary integration in the county. Wallace also voted to eliminate a black history teacher training course -- a "Christmas present" she said Greenblatt had promised teachers.
Wallace, however, abstained on the redrawing of boundaries for Blair High and Eastern Intermediate -- an action some critics said was as good as voting for the measures. The two decisions were overturned by the state board.
The animosity between Wallace and Greenblatt dates back to 1976, when they first ran for the board. Greenblatt won and Wallace lost, and they parted none too pleasantly.
When the 1978 election rolled around, however, Greenblatt convinced Wallace to run on a slate with Barse and Zappone. Wallace agreed after her supporters insisted she probably could not win without a slate. The three swept the election.
From that point, the two clashed on most issues that were not educational. In their most celebrated battle, ballots were cast 10 times for the board presidency in December 1980, before Wallace beat Greenblatt when then board member Elizabeth Spencer finally voted for Wallace.
Recently, board members say Wallace has taken to amending many of Greenblatt's proposals before voting for them. During one fight, board member Suzanne Peyser said she introduced some of Greenblatt's ideas when it became clear that Wallace would not vote for changes carrying Greenblatt's name.
Greenblatt says she prefers not to discuss the personal differences. Instead, she says what is important is that board members of like educational philosophies are elected, pointing to reductions in class size, higher test scores, introduction of standardized final exams and tougher restrictions against cutting class as among accomplishments of the board under her leadership.
On that much, she and Wallace agree.