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Steinberg turns image inside out His rift with Schaefer used as asset for 1994


ANNAPOLIS -- He is the second highest elected official in Maryland. He served 20 years in the state Senate, four as presiding officer. In tribute to his 25 years of public service, his friends and political supporters will lavish as much as a quarter-million dollars on him this week.

So, how does Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, the consummate insider, portray himself on the eve of the first major fund-raiser in his 1994 race for governor?

"I'm technically an out advocating change, but I've got a proven track record," says the 58-year-old Democrat from Pikesville.

An "out?"

Here is a career politician trying to make the most of an estranged relationship with his unpopular boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and deal with the anti-incumbent fever that has infected the populace in this presidential election year.

Yet, here is a man who still claims credit for some of the Schaefer administration's most notable achievements, including reform of the state's higher education system, construction of the new light rail line through Baltimore and the Orioles' new baseball stadium.

It will be the enduring paradox of his campaign.

Mr. Steinberg may have to present himself as both outsider and insider, as someone unafraid to challenge the status quo and as an experienced Annapolis politician who knows how to get things done.

For someone who describes himself as an "out," the two-term lieutenant governor has assembled an impressive a list "ins" for his fund-raiser Thursday night, an event that will cost the faithful $100 to $500 a ticket.

The roster of organizers is chock full of big-name corporate executives and some of the wealthiest lawyers, developers, bankers, doctors and other bigwigs in Maryland.

It's a carefully orchestrated display of big money and blue-chip backing, clearly calculated to scare off rival candidates, or at least put them on notice that raising money will not be one of Mr. Steinberg's problems.

"It's a very impressive list of supporters," said state Democratic Chairman Nathan Landow, himself a wealthy Montgomery County developer and national political fund-raiser. "Campaigns are getting more expensive all the time. Fund-raising is key to success. As much as we dislike that, it's a necessity."

The Steinberg tribute committee includes longtime Schaefer supporters, even though the governor barely speaks to his nominal second-in-command these days.

Mr. Steinberg says the governor will not be invited to Thursday night's affair at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel.

The event's honorary co-chairmen include three of Maryland's most powerful elected officials, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein; Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's; and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent.

And, although it's dominated by those who have helped Maryland Democrats in the past, the list of co-chairs includes some big names in Republican circles, including Mercantile Bankshares Corp. Chairman H. Furlong Baldwin.

Although Mr. Baldwin remains close to Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall -- arguably the GOP's best hope for governor in 1994 -- the banker nevertheless agreed to co-chair the Steinberg event with longtime Schaefer allies J. Stevenson Peck, retired chairman of Signet Bank, and Jacques T. Schlenger, senior partner at the Baltimore law firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard.

Mr. Steinberg said he hopes to raise at least $250,000 toward an overall campaign budget that could reach $3 million.

He cautiously predicted that at least 800 people will attend the event, although lobbyists and others involved say they won't be surprised if a couple of thousand people show up.

Whether such contributors are truly committed to a Steinberg candidacy, or merely hedging their bets early in the game, remains to be seen.

Others on the tribute committee include: Western Maryland builder Dominick J. Perini; Baltimore parking garage owner Allen Quille; racetrack owners Joseph A. De Francis and John T. Manfuso; Richard Davidson, head of the American Hospital Association; Phyllis B. Brotman of Image Dynamics; Howard County developer James R. Moxley Jr.; trucking company executive Donald Bowman; Dr. J. David Nagel, head of the state medical society; Otis Warren Jr., a Baltimore real estate executive; Crown Central Petroleum chief Henry A. Rosenberg Jr.; bankers Charles W. Cole Jr., H. Grant Hathaway and Alan P. Hoblitzell Jr.; Parks Sausage's Raymond V. Haysbert Sr.; and Calman J. Zamoiski, a Baltimore appliance distributor.

"There is kind of an old-boy network about some of that," said Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive who is one of Mr. Steinberg's serious rivals for the Democratic nomination.

"If ever there was a statement of politics-as-usual, continuation of the past, incumbents protecting incumbents, that's what that list was all about."

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. of Baltimore and Maryland Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr. of Landover also are potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

Mr. Schlenger acknowledged the problems that helping Mr. Steinberg raise for some members of the committee, given the Schaefer-Steinberg rift.

"Of course it is difficult for everyone," he said.

"No one wants to have any disrespect for the great governor, but on the other hand, you have to look for the future. You have to realize the governor will not be the governor after the expiration of this term."

After three successful years together, Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Steinberg began parting ways as their 1990 re-election campaign approached.

The final break came in 1991 when the lieutenant governor refused to support the governor's Linowes Commission tax increase proposal before the General Assembly.

Since then, the governor has stripped Mr. Steinberg of all his substantive duties, leaving him with his State House office, a three-person staff, a trio of state troopers who rotate as bodyguard and driver, and little else.

So Mr. Steinberg has spent most of the past year traveling the state non-stop, cutting ribbons and speaking to virtually any group that will have him.

The rift has exposed him to criticism that he's using his position solely for political purposes, and that taxpayers are getting nothing of substance in return for his $100,000-a-year salary and $300,000 or so for his staff, troopers and office expenses.

Mr. Steinberg is a man of bountiful good humor and energy who revels in the give-and-take of politics.

His unhappiness with his situation slips out only in the uncharacteristic bitterness of some of his comments.

"I foster and appreciate difference of opinion. I believe in abiding by the processes of government," he says.

But he also complains: "I've seen an arrogance to the law and a stifling of public opinion . . . of lay citizens intimidated . . . it's like Big Brother watching. I've attempted to let my feelings be known, but it's like talking to a wall."

He is aware that such comments may do more than distance him from Mr. Schaefer. They may also be viewed as evidence of disloyalty by voters who are tired of public officials sniping at one another.

He defends himself by saying that in 1986, when he was initially asked to run for lieutenant governor, he warned Mr. Schaefer that he would not support things he does not believe in and would answer truthfully if the press ever asked him about such differences.

To help him devise a strategy to disassociate himself from the more unpopular aspects of the administration, Mr. Steinberg has turned to some of his longtime friends in the legislature, including House Appropriations Chairman Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's.

Mr. Ryan's son, Charles J. Ryan III, is the first -- and so far only -- paid employee of the Steinberg campaign.

The lieutenant governor has also retained Cooper & Secrest Associates, a political polling firm in Alexandria, Va., that specializes in Democratic primary races.

The firm represented Zell Miller in Georgia and Ben Nelson in Nebraska, both of whom won multicandidate Democratic gubernatorial primaries in 1990.

Given the uncertain, almost revolutionary mood of the electorate, however, some Maryland politicians believe it may not matter whom Mr. Steinberg hires as a strategist, or how much money he can raise.

If voters do not -- as he would like -- view him as an "out," then they may not vote him "in."

"I anticipate the mood of the public is looking for a rather significant change," Mr. Glendening suggested.

"Continuation of the same politics, the same faces, doing the same things, is not what Maryland is going to be about in the '90s."

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