"Peace is at hand." -- Henry Kissinger, Oct. 26, 1972
Two and a half months ago, Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes commandeered five minutes of television time in Baltimore and Washington to break his "vow of silence" on the state's continuing savings and loan crisis.
"Tonight, I have news for those with deposits at Community and First Maryland" savings and loan associations, Hughes said Jan. 9. "Nonstop negotiations for the purchase of these two troubled associations have been under way for weeks. The essentials of purchase agreements for both are now concluded."
Today, depositors at the two crippled Montgomery County savings and loans are still waiting for the deals to be struck. Like the crisis itself, which has dragged on for 10 months, the sale of the two thrifts is taking far longer than the governor thought.
For Hughes, every day that passes with First Maryland and Community deposits still frozen makes the savings and loan crisis more of a political albatross. Getting the crisis off the front pages is essential if Hughes is to make a credible run for the U.S. Senate. The primary race pits the governor against three substantial Democratic opponents.
But in the 10 months since depositor runs began at Baltimore's Old Court Savings & Loan Association, Hughes has repeatedly assumed the best rather than anticipating the worst.
Like Henry Kissinger's rosy prognosis of an end to the Vietnam War, many of Hughes' statements on resolving the savings and loan crisis have been premature.
Although being candid about the savings and loan crisis would not have saved Hughes from all of the political fallout, an already bad situation has been exacerbated by the governor's habit of playing down the news. Hughes has in that sense become a victim of his own heightened expectations.
Consider some of the governor's statements during the past few months:
*Sept. 6: "First Maryland is one of those that is into negotiations regarding acquisition. We are optimstic that that is going to occur. As a matter of fact, we would hope that that would occur within a matter of days." Hope for the acquisition of First Maryland by Citicorp collapsed in October.
*Sept. 6: "We have no indication of any other savings and loan which might go under conservatorship." First Maryland and Ridgeway savings and loan associations subsequently went into conservatorship.
*Jan. 10: "I do think that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in the savings and loan crisis."
*Jan. 24: "The First Maryland and Community situations are very much alive."
*Jan. 30: The acquisition negotiations on First Maryland and Community "are still alive, very alive."
*Feb. 6: "They are still alive . . . . It would be my expectation . . . by the first of the week to really have a much more definitive idea of what's going to happen with regard to those two savings and loans."
*Feb. 13: "Community . . . is very much alive . . . . So I think that's great progress on First Maryland and we would hope to have some good final news in the very near future."
*Feb. 27: "There has been, I think, significant progress with regard to the First Maryland situation . . . . A purchase agreement is being worked on and should be done today or tomorrow . . . . In both of these instances what it really has gotten down to now -- on both First Maryland and Community -- is getting the best economic deal for the state of Maryland."
*March 13: "These negotiations to sell Community are still going on . . . . And I might say with regard to First Maryland that those negotiations are under way and are continuing . . . . We think that we are getting very close to a decision with regard to that."
In his telecast in early January, Hughes responded to those who had criticized him for disappearing from public view during the fall and early winter. He said he had kept silent "for fear that premature leaks would damage or destroy delicate negotiations" for the acquisitions of First Maryland and Community.
"I was willing to talk," Hughes said, but "only when the talking helped."
In light of events since Jan. 9, that argument seems a bit disingenuous.
As the U.S. Senate primary draws nearer, Hughes has talked often. In that time, the suitor for First Maryland -- Yorkridge Calvert Savings and Loan Association -- still has not overcome regulatory problems that have slowed the fulfillment of the engagement. And the original suitor for Community, a subsidiary of PSFS of Pennsylvania, has tripped over regulatory hurdles and has been replaced by Mellon Bank.
The governor's talking may have helped, but it is hard to see it at this point.