Lloyd R. Helt Jr., the mayor of this tiny Carroll County community, has discovered that hell hath no fury like a big city mayor scorched.
Helt publicly criticized Baltimore mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate William Donald Schaefer 10 days ago for the city's role in killing legislation that would have capped awards in municipal liability cases. Ever since, Helt, an early Schaefer supporter, said he has been feeling the hot breath of the mayor's storied temper.
The latest blast came Tuesday, when Helt was supposed to introduce Schaefer at a Sykesville Rotary Club dinner. The invitation to present Schaefer to the Rotarians was withdrawn, Helt said, after a Schaefer aide suggested to a Rotary Club official "that I shouldn't introduce him because of my comments."
"We had nothing to do with that," said Mark Wasserman, Schaefer's campaign manager.
The flap over the introduction was preceded by a barrage of phone calls, some from aides to Schaefer's administration and gubernatorial campaign, objecting to Helt's criticisms of Schaefer published in The Baltimore Sun on April 13. In the article, Helt said Schaefer had "sold us up the river," when the city's opposition to a provision in the municipal liability legislation helped doom the bill, designed to curtail spiraling insurance costs.
"I'm a supporter of Don Schaefer for governor, but I'm thinking twice now," The Sun quoted Helt, whose town west of Baltimore received national attention last fall when its officials threatened to resign en masse after they lost their municipal liability insurance.
Among those who called to criticize Helt in the aftermath of the Sun article were a Baltimore city legislative lobbyist and the executive director of the Maryland Municipal League. Both explained that the bill had died because the league, the Maryland Association of Counties and the Schaefer administration all objected to a provision that they felt would expose local governments to additional negligence suits, even as the legislation capped awards at $200,000.
Also calling was Robert J. DiPietro, the former Laurel mayor who is now a member of Schaefer's gubernatorial campaign organization. According to Helt, DiPietro accused the Sykesville mayor of "broadsiding" Schaefer.
On Tuesday, campaign manager Wasserman said that Helt had seen the error of his ways and was ready to recant his earlier remarks and embrace Schaefer's gubernatorial bid. But in interviews that night and yesterday, Helt didn't sound like a man who had trimmed his sails.
"I'm not back in the fold yet," said Helt, still angry about the city's opposition to the liability bill and the reaction of Schaefer aides to his earlier criticism.
Helt, who accused the city administration of "playing some games with the bill," predicted that his town's overall cost for several kinds of municipal insurance will probably double to about $45,000 this year, an increase equal to a rise in the property tax of 12 cents.
"I find the whole experience to be rather disturbing," Helt said yesterday of the response generated by his original criticisms of Schaefer. "It's an overreaction. The staff is overly protective of him . . . . I've heard about his Siberia and I'm in it. The whole experience has been rather eye-opening for me."
Helt, who was personally wooed by Sachs the day after the Sun article was published, said he is "on the fence" in the governor's race and won't make up his mind until he hears the candidates debate the issues.
That led Helt to another criticism of Schaefer, this time for not debating Sachs.
"I'm still reevaluating my support for Mayor Schaefer," he said. "I'm very much disturbed. I don't want to participate in a coronation, I want to participate in a campaign . . . . I'll support him Schaefer as mayor, as governor, but not as king. He ought to get in there and debate."