Hilda Mae Snoops' vow to give away the furnishings she selected for the Governor's Mansion is simply the empty threat of a woman who feels unappreciated, say several State House watchers.
While no one is dismissing her plan completely, people are predicting that the furniture, chandeliers and silverware she collected will stay right where they are.
Snoops is simply feeling unloved, said one government source. "We're dealing with an individual who as a volunteer has given an inordinate amount of time and it just simply hasn't been appreciated," the source said. "We're listening to a person who feels wounded."
Fed up with criticism of her work, Snoops, the official state hostess and longtime companion of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said yesterday she has decided to pack up the furnishings she selected for the Governor's Mansion and ship them off to someone who will appreciate them.
Spite, she said, has nothing to do with it.
"What's spiteful?" she exclaimed. "If the state doesn't appreciate [the redecoration], I'll take it back. We want to put it in a place where it will be appreciated."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, predicted that Snoops will change her mind.
"I think that, because of her frustration, she misspoke," Miller said. "There's four more years left in the governor's term. Any conversations about removing items are premature."
Snoops said she is tired of legislators and journalists turning up their noses at her efforts to beautify the mansion. She said she will begin reviewing offers from museums and others for the furnishings and the 12-foot fountain she purchased with private money.
Snoops unexpectedly announced her intentions at a meeting of the Governor's Mansion Trust, a group of public officials, historic preservationists and museum representatives that supervises the furnishing of the mansion's seven State rooms.
Trust members, who toured the mansion's public rooms after the meeting, appeared visibly surprised at the news. Afterward, several either did not return phone calls or declined to comment.
"Did I hear her correctly?" one amazed trust representative asked a reporter.
The governor's office notified several reporters of the meeting, apparently in anticipation of Snoops' announcement.
Although an extremely private woman who usually avoids the news media, Snoops spoke at length with three reporters at the mansion after the meeting.
She acknowledged that an outpouring of public support for her renovations could persuade her to change her decision to unload the furnishings.
The mansion has been a gubernatorial sore spot for some time. Schaefer and Snoops created an uproar when they took over the mansion in 1987 and began redecorating the seven period rooms that former Gov. Harry R. Hughes and his wife had spent years decorating to reflect various periods in state history.
Schaefer complained last month that some Marylanders continue to believe -- erroneously -- that his renovations were unnecessary and paid for entirely with tax dollars.
Besides several hundred thousand dollars in private donations, the mansion overhaul has cost at least $1 million in public funds. The overhaul included landscaping and mansion repairs as well as redecorating.
Although some of the new items -- including the $169,500 fountain erected on the rear lawn, which depicts all manner of Maryland flora and fauna -- were purchased with private funds, they proved to be an easy target for critics. Schaefer detractors have pointed to them as symbols of what they believed to be the governor's big-spending habits.
Analysts, including a source in the governor's 1990 campaign, ,, have said the fountain and lavish renovations cost the governor votes in the election.
Snoops said the non-profit Governor's Mansion Foundation Inc., which raised the private funds that paid for some rugs, artwork, chandeliers and the fountain, will offer them to historical buildings, "museums, private people, decorators." The items are loan to the mansion, Snoops said.
"I have an offer for the fountain already," Snoops said. She declined to provide any details.
However, one government source quickly dismissed the idea Snoops would remove the 5,575-pound fountain.
When asked about the governor's reaction to removing furnishings, Snoops referred questions to Schaefer. A spokesman for the governor declined to comment.
Snoops said "dull, seedy" furnishings collected by previous administrations could be removed from storage and reinstalled in the mansion. Sounding more than a little bitter, she said legislative critics "seem to prefer" such furnishings.
Edward C. Papenfuse, the state archivist and secretary of the mansion trust, said 30 items have been lent to the mansion, including five chandeliers and the fountain.
Zelig Robinson, the lawyer for the Governor's Mansion Foundation, said the foundation retained ownership of many of the furnishings purchased for the mansion. More permanent items, such as stained glass, were actually donated to the state, he said.
While discussing her renovations, Snoops had harsh words for Schaefer's predecessor in the mansion, former Governor Hughes.
She criticized Hughes for failing to take care of the mansion's private rooms. The Hughes' dog, Beau, scratched up the furniture and urinated on the rugs, Snoops complained.
"You can't imagine a dog being allowed to wet on a door frame," she said. "The stains were unreal."
Snoops also took a shot at the Hughes administration for auctioning off surplus antiques at what she claimed to be reduced prices -- totaling $9,000 -- and she questioned where the money went. She also accused Hughes of removing other items on loan from the Maryland Historical Society. "When you looked around, you saw nothing but walls," she said.
Hughes, who was out of town, denied Snoops' allegations in a telephone interview with The Sun. He said some surplus mansion items were sold, but the money went to the state. Papenfuse said he believed the money had been returned to the state.
"It's just another one of their insecure comments," Hughes said. "It really is insane."
While announcing a decision to undo some of her work, Snoops also unveiled a future addition -- a painted door screen commonly found at Baltimore homes. She expressed some displeasure, however, at the bright colors used in the screen painting, which depicted trees, a wall and outdoor patio tiles.
Snoops' mansion renovations, unveiled in 1988, provoked controversy from the start. Sun art critic John Dorsey wrote that the redone rooms were "bland, dull and lack coherence."
Her renovations included Waterford crystal chandeliers, complete with "S"-shaped brackets in honor of Schaefer. The new-look mansion also contains a stained-glass window in the hall and a set of silverware, both featuring Schaefer's name. New wall coverings, drapes and upholstery from Scalamandre Silks, the New York fabric design house, cost about $100,000.