Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's decision to temporarily step aside has prompted maneuvering by at least a half-dozen City Council members eager to fill the remainder of her term should she be fired or forced to resign.
The two people with the most power to sway the situation -- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Council President Mary Pat Clarke -- say it is premature to talk about a replacement for Mrs. McLean. But behind the scenes, several council members are quietly touting their qualifications to fill her post.
If Ms. McLean is forced to leave office before her term expires in 1995, a replacement would be chosen by a majority vote of the 19-member City Council. The council is free to elect someone who is not a member of city government.
"Yes, I have my eyes on that [job] because of my business experience," said second-term Councilman Nicholas D. D'Adamo, D-1st, who runs his family's discount store in Highlandtown. "Can I get the 10 votes? I don't know, but I would try."
Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, said several people have approached him about seeking the post. "A politician never says never," he said, adding that he also is weighing a bid for council president in 1995. "But while Jackie has a foot in the grave at this point, it is still a little early for us to start licking our chops."
Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, said: "Given my background and experience, I would be interested if it were available. I also think it's rather premature to be running for an office that isn't open yet. No matter how things look, right now the comptroller is not guilty."
If Mrs. McLean were removed, she would be the first city official to be stripped of office since former City Councilman John A. Schaefer lost his seat in 1975 after being convicted of violating conflict-of-interest rules. He was re-elected to his 1st District seat that fall.
Clearly, no favorite has emerged to replace Mrs. McLean, should that prove necessary. And no consensus is likely to emerge quickly, because the choice for comptroller would likely come down to a struggle between Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke, both of whom have announced plans to run for mayor in 1995.
Several council members and political operatives said that the mayor and council president would seek to support candidates who they thought would complement their mayoral campaigns.
"Clearly there's lobbying going on," said one council member. "Everybody wants it. I don't see anyone having 10 votes yet. The biggest factor in the whole equation will be the mayor-Mary Pat thing."
Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, a one-time assistant comptroller for Maryland National Bank and co-chair of the council's budget committee, said he would be interested in the job -- if others are interested in him.
"If a vacancy were to occur, then I would say if the administration were interested in me, then I would be interested," he said. "But the political system is such that the mayor would probably recommend a candidate and, I think, the president of the council would recommend a different candidate."
Mr. DiBlasi is seen as a possible choice of Mr. Schmoke's. For one, Mr. DiBlasi is white, and that could help Mr. Schmoke -- who typically does poorly among white voters in Democratic primaries -- if they were to form a ticket in 1995.
Also, Mr. DiBlasi has fiscal experience and his council seat would likely be filled by Rodney A. Orange, the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. That would add a ninth black member to the council, another development that could be a political plus for Mr. Schmoke.
"I have been approached this past weekend with that scenario," Mr. Orange said. "I am open to the scenario, but I want to first
check with the African-American Coalition of the council to be sure about what is going on."
Del. Kenneth C. Montague, D-City, who some have mentioned as Mrs. Clarke's choice for comptroller, said that if Mrs. McLean must be replaced, he hopes it does not become a political power struggle.
Doesn't want a fight
"Certainly, the last thing we need is for the mayor and council president to have a fight over who gets this job," said Mr. Montague, a lawyer, who added that he has not been approached about the post. "If that happens, nobody is going to get their choice. The best they can do is get somebody who is not going to hurt them."
And some council members are selling themselves on that basis. Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran, D-3rd, said he would be willing to fill Mrs. McLean's term as a caretaker who wouldn't run in 1995. "All things are possible," he said. "I've been approached with that idea and it is something I would consider."
All of that speculation assumes that Mrs. McLean will be forced from office -- a possibility that grew yesterday when she announced that she was taking a leave of absence. She will continue to receive her $53,000-a-year salary.
Mrs. McLean is being investigated by Maryland's special prosecutor for allegations that she steered a city lease to a Federal Hill building that she and her husband own. The lease would have boosted the value of the building, which was for sale, by at least $200,000.
Investigators also are looking into Mrs. McLean's hiring of a public relations aide, who, other members of the comptroller's office have said, never showed up at the office or produced any work. The employee received more than $22,000 from the city. The city Board of Ethics also is investigating Mrs. McLean's actions.
Deputy to take over
While Mrs. McLean is on leave, Deputy Comptroller Shirley A. Williams will take control of the office.
Both Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke agreed that it was too soon to take steps to remove Mrs. McLean from her office. Under the city charter, the comptroller may be removed for negligence of duty by a majority vote of the City Council, following proceedings initiated by the mayor.
"I doubt I would take any further steps toward removal until the investigation by Steve Montanarelli has been completed," Mr. Schmoke said. "But my sense is that his investigation is moving along pretty quickly now."