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The strange realities of running for governor


Candidates preparing for the races of 1994 will spend th next few months raising money, worrying about image and pondering the quirks of public life.

Take the Democratic candidates for governor:

Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke wonders how to cope with the results of his politically daring call in 1988 for a debate on decriminalization of drug abuse in America. Then and now, Mr. Schmoke was asking for agreement that what we are doing now doesn't work.

Though many would agree with his assessment, many disagree with his solution even as a debating point. Surely, nothing he has said in public life was more courageous -- or potentially damaging politically. We say politicians are too cautious, too conscious of polls, too political. But if they venture boldly into sensitive areas, someone is always waiting to savage them.

At the same time, talent and commitment sometimes fall victim to the most inane considerations.

What should Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening do about name recognition? First, of course, he needs to get more. Then, some say, he will have another problem: Parris is not a name with which voters will be comfortable immediately. In time, the problem will take care of itself.

And what about Attorney General Joe Curran, Maryland's most famous political nice guy?

Mr. Curran might be nicer than Mr. Rogers. But, just as Mr. Glendening wouldn't want to trade Parris for Bob, Mr. Curran won't want to throw a few tantrums to spice up his persona.

Both men may also be afflicted with Scoop Jackson syndrome. The late senator from Washington ran into problems when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. Though highly regarded by many, he was hurt in a media age by lack of flair. When Mr. Jackson gave a fireside chat, it was said, the fire went to sleep.

And what of Mickey Steinberg, the lieutenant governor, who heads into the election confronting the worst of two political worlds?

Here is a man who has labored in Annapolis for more than a quarter century, serving as president of the state Senate as well as lieutenant governor. Now he looks to political insiders like someone who tried to sit on two stools at the same time -- and is in danger of falling through. Without him as Schaefer administration point man in the General Assembly, the state might not have its new baseball stadium or its light rail system or a stream lined higher education system.

Yet, some of his friends urged him to resign two years ago. He and the state's chief executive, William Donald Schaefer, had grown apart, to put it mildly. Mr. Schaefer was squabbling with the legislature, advocating more taxes and sending nasty notes to private citizens.

If Mr. Steinberg wanted to be governor, his advisers were saying, had to separate himself from Mr. Schaefer, whose plummeting position in the polls could drag him down, too. But Mr. Steinberg was trapped. Where was it written that a lieutenant governor, if politically endangered, could simply resign?

And what of the lost platform? A lieutenant governor gets invited to events all over the state. People actually call him governor, after all. What about his state car, his driver and his $100,000 a year salary? He stayed on while trying to make it clear that he took a different view of things than Mr. Schaefer.

Now, though, the betting is that much of the state still sees him as part of the current administration. And, the still influential and wealthy Schaefer loyalists see him as a traitor and would rather have anyone else succeed their boss.

Call Dr. Solomon?

Dr. Neil Solomon -- physician, newspaper columnist, head of the state's AIDS Commission -- is said to be the latest potential entrant in the gubernatorial sweepstakes, Democratic or Republican. Dr. Solomon has been talking up his potential candidacy with anyone who'll listen, pitching himself as an expert on health care reform.

Sauerbrey favored

Baltimore County Del. Ellen Sauerbrey is expected to run well in the GOP gubernatorial straw poll, the results of which are to be disclosed this weekend at the Republican Convention in Ocean City. Some expect her to win the election among party Central Committee members and Republican office holders.

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