Boergers banks on what sets her apart Would-be governor not one of the boys


State Sen. Mary H. Boergers' chances of winning the Democratic primary for governor rest partly on a hope that voters will choose the only candidate who isn't a white guy in a tie.

Ms. Boergers, who officially launches her campaign today, clearly wants her candidacy to capitalize on what makes her different from her two principal opponents.

A two-term state delegate and first-term senator from Montgomery County, Ms. Boergers is not an entrenched member of the state party hierarchy. That description certainly fits Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening.

Her political record is so little known that it may be hard for the public to bring her picture into focus. Unlike her opponents, she has not had to make decisions in an executive position, a point they're sure to use against her.

But she is a woman running for governor, a rarity in the long history of Maryland gubernatorial politics that is bound to gain her attention.

There are actually two women running for governor in 1994; the other is Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Baltimore County delegate. (A third woman, 2nd District Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, is toying with the idea of running.)

Until now, however, a woman has run for Maryland's highest post only once. That was in 1974, when GOP stalwart Louise Gore sacrificed herself against the powerful Democratic incumbent, Marvin Mandel. She lost by a 2-to-1 margin.

Ms. Boergers, a 47-year-old mother of two from Kensington, says, "I'm not running as a woman, and I don't want anyone to vote for me because I'm a woman. I want to be judged on my record, ideas and priorities."

Yet, her gender may well be her trump card in a race in which she faces opponents with more experience, name recognition, connections and money.

At an appearance before the Greenbelt Democratic Club, she was introduced as "the only Democratic candidate for governor who is a woman." Women in the audience clapped heartily.

"The men can clap, too," she quickly interjected.

After her talk, however, it was the women in the group who appeared most impressed.

"Even though she is a long shot, she has a chance," club member Pat Unger said. "I think women are looking for a woman to vote for."

Ms. Boergers readily acknowledges that women and women's groups are her natural political base and makes no secret of her desire to tap that base for all the money, volunteers and support she can get. In Maryland primary elections, women usually make more than 50 percent of the voters.

She has been endorsed by the Women's Campaign Fund, a national bipartisan organization that supports abortion-rights candidates, and she is seeking financial support from Emily's List, a national political organization that helps raise money for female candidates.

But most observers can't imagine that she will be able to raise $2 million, a figure she agrees will probably be needed for a successful race.

"The biggest hurdle women [candidates] have is fund-raising," Ms. Boergers says, adding that women often make less than their male counterparts, rarely head large corporations and might not have a lot of discretionary money to spend.

She says female candidates are more likely than their male counterparts to be declared long shots and are more likely to be dismissed as willing to settle for some lesser post -- in her case, lieutenant governor.

"I'm really running for governor," she says. "I'm not pretending to do 'A' because I really want to do 'D.' " She adds that she "can't imagine the circumstances" under which she would d settle for the No. 2 spot.

In the past month, her chances for the No. 1 spot appear to have improved substantially, thanks to state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, both of whom suddenly dropped out of the race. Mr. Schmoke had been considered the early front-runner in a five-way race in which Ms. Boergers was buried in the back of the pack.

"Now people around the state know I'm running," she said recently. "In a crowded field, it's easy to get lost in the crowd."

Mr. Glendening is still ignoring her candidacy. When Mr. Schmoke stepped aside, Mr. Glendening proclaimed that the race had come down to him and Mr. Steinberg.

'The invisible woman'

"My supporters are off the wall. Women around the state are offended," Ms. Boergers responded. "It is so blatantly an attempt to cut me out as 'the invisible woman.' "

Political pollster Keith Haller says, "It's not coincidental that neither Steinberg nor Glendening are mentioning her as a candidate. They fear she might take off."

Mr. Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research in Bethesda, says that if Ms. Boergers plays her cards right, she has a realistic shot at winning next September's primary.

"The other two are more establishment types: one a lieutenant governor, the other a county executive. She will be viewed as somewhat the outsider, somewhat running against the establishment, and I think that is a positive attribute in 1994," Mr. Haller says.

Brad Coker, president of Mason Dixon Political Media Research Inc. of Columbia, says, "Schmoke's departure definitely helps her. . . . Without a Kurt Schmoke in the race, the black vote is in play, and more of the Baltimore City vote is in play. And I think she's got a very good chance simply because she's the only woman in the [Democratic primary] at this time."

Mr. Coker adds that Ms. Boergers' chances would "go up even more if a third white male were to get in." Candidates for office in 1994 do not have to file until July, and many in Maryland political circles believe the final gubernatorial field is not yet set.

Blair Lee IV, a Montgomery County political columnist who has managed two gubernatorial campaigns, gives Ms. Boergers some high marks.

"To her credit, what she has done so far has been brilliant: She's perceived a vacuum in Montgomery County and, frankly, in state politics. She's from the state's largest and wealthiest subdivision, with the most registered voters, and one that does not have a favored son or daughter."

Some are skeptical

But Mr. Lee is among those who are skeptical about her chances.

Some legislators say Ms. Boergers' professional resume is thin by comparison with those of Mr. Glendening and Mr. Steinberg. There is a view that she hopes to make up for her lack of executive experience by capitalizing on the trend of putting more women in public office.

"Mary thinks she can winky twink and tap dance her way through this race," Mr. Lee says. "She will have to take positions, and those positions will produce winners and losers. Running simply as a woman simply doesn't do it."

Roy Meachum, a political columnist for the Frederick Post, is even more blunt.

"Outside her own intimate circle and Montgomery County perhaps, [her] prospects of bringing home Maryland's ultimate bacon next year are rated little more than a joke, kept alive by fears of being cursed as anti-female for anyone caught saying so," Mr. Meachum wrote recently.

Ms. Boergers, who is scheduled to formally announce her candidacy with several events across the state today, became involved in politics while a history teacher at Rockville High School, helping in Democrat Lanny Davis' two unsuccessful bids for Congress.

Her attention turned to Annapolis in 1976, when she became lobbyist for the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women. In 1981, Gov. Harry Hughes appointed her to fill a vacant seat in the House of Delegates.

She bases her claims for success as a delegate on the passage of a bill permitting the state to authorize a revenue-raising tax amnesty program. The measure might have gone into effect a year earlier, however, had it not been for her refusal to go along with a rival's bill that accomplished the same purpose but didn't have her name on it.

In the Senate, where she has served on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, she has been a supporter of the death penalty, of proposed bans on assault weapons and of legislation to prohibit discrimination against homosexuals.

She favors abolition of the controversial legislative scholarship program and was an outspoken supporter of the General Assembly's 1991 abortion-rights law even though she is a Roman Catholic.

This year, she criticized the Senate leadership for rushing forward with the confirmation of John S. Arnick, the Baltimore County judge who left the bench amid allegations that he made crude and sexist remarks about women.

In 1992, she voted for the $500 million tax increase that brought the state budget back into balance but later strongly opposed a measure that stripped Montgomery County and other jurisdictions of a state subsidy that covered Social Security costs for teachers.

"This is really the beginning of the end for the city," she said of Baltimore at the time -- a threat from one region of the state to another that is likely to reverberate when she solicits votes in Baltimore.

Asked now what she would tell a Baltimore voter, she replies, "I'd say, 'We're all in this together, and in a high tide all boats rise.' "

She adds, "It is important to understand the importance of economic development in the Washington suburbs. If there are not sufficient revenues, the city is in trouble."

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