Where's Mickey?


WHERE'S Mickey?

Well, for openers, you can bet that Mickey -- a.k.a. Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg -- is not attending a meeting in Gov. William Donald Schaefer's office. He hasn't done that in more than a year.

Nor does he any longer join in cabinet meetings or governor's press conferences. Neither was Mickey invited to a retreat of the governor's cabinet and staff last week at the posh Harbortowne on the waterfront in St. Michael's. And he wasn't included in the traveling roadshow that met with the bond rating houses in New York. Mickey still gets the daily press digest, but he's been cut from the list of those who receive transcripts of the governor's press conferences.

Mickey was virtually invisible during the 1992 General Assembly session, involving himself only in legislation that affected committees and commissions he serves on.

Mickey's name was banished from the governor's weekly schedule that's distributed to the press, but it's back on the calendar again only because he's occasionally a surrogate speaker for the governor.

Mickey was stripped of his epaulets as chairman of the Governor's Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse and was removed but later repatriated as chairman of the Medivac Helicopter Advisory Committee. He's still chairman of the Peabody Conservatory committee as well as the State House Trust.

And Mickey heads a committee reviewing boards and commissions attached to state government agencies. Mickey's personal staff was reduced by two, and those who remain are treated by the governor's staff as if they have perpetual morning breath.

And that's about as far as it goes for such high-priced talent as the former Maryland Senate president and legislative mastermind during the Schaefer administration's first four years. Mickey's under virtual house arrest, operating as a kind of shadow government responsible only to himself.

So as Mr. Schaefer prepares to embark on his week-long junket to Europe on May 29, the question State House rubberneckers are asking is this: Will the governor hand Mr. Steinberg the cherished one-sentence letter assigning his second banana the full powers of the governor during Mr. Schaefer's absence? Under Maryland law, as Mickey has learned, the lieutenant governor has only those duties bestowed upon him by the governor.

And as if to jab the elbow deeper into Mickey's ribs, if Mr. Schaefer's true to form he'll continue the snit and probably snub his own lieutenant governor's major fundraiser on June 18 in Baltimore. Moreover, celebrity watchers will be straining to see which Schaefer loyalists and aides cross over and show up as if to abandon the past and buy into the future.

A sneak preview indicates that foremost among them are bankers H. Furlong Baldwin (Mercantile) and Steve Peck (Signet), both long-time Schaefer supporters who, along with attorney Jacques Schlenger (Venable, Baetjer and Howard), are co-chairmen of the fundraiser. Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, D-Prince George's, and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, are chairing the event.

The feud persists, almost as if whom the gods would destroy they first name lieutenant governor of Maryland. In Mickey's case, the lockout goes back to last year when Mr. Schaefer accused his second in command of a double-cross on the Linowes tax program.

So where's Mickey, you ask? Mickey's mainly on the road in kind of a permanent campaign of speeches and fundraisers that he hopes will win him the governorship in 1994 when the Constitution automatically retires Schaefer.

Mickey's dance card is full, penned in with speech dates before political clubs as well as civic and service organizations. His No. 1 preoccupation right now is to raise $250,000 at his June bash on top of the $100,000 he already has in the bank. The fundraiser's a two-tiered affair -- $500 to rub pinstriped shoulders with the rich and famous at a private reception, $100 to mingle with the hoi polloi.

How sweet it must be to have members of the governor's staff, hoping to extend their state service and broaden their pensions, quietly sucking up, saying they're privately supporting Mr. Steinberg but can't begin working openly just yet.

Where's Mickey? While he may appear to be missing in action, he's alive and well in Annapolis and doing his own free-wheeling thing.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes every other Thursday on Maryland politics.

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