Well-heeled dark horse Stewart Bainum Jr. officially joins the race for governor of Maryland tomorrow, trumpeting his belated entrance into the crowded field of Democratic hopefuls with a monthlong fanfare of television commercials to propel him from the starting gate.
Besides showcasing Mr. Bainum, the ads highlight a new dynamic in the campaign -- personal wealth and the willingness to use it. The multimillionaire Montgomery County businessman hopes they will be the great equalizer, making up for his relative political obscurity and entry a scant four months before the Sept. Democratic primary.
Although six other Democrats are contending for the party's nomination, none has yet electrified the voters or emerged as the clear front-runner. That makes Mr. Bainum's well-funded rush, even from a standing start, a potentially powerful force in the campaign.
Mr. Bainum is scheduled to announce his candidacy, expected for months, at news conferences in Hagerstown, Silver Spring, Baltimore and Salisbury.
In addition to his late start and early use of television advertising, Mr. Bainum is going against the grain in another way, publicly linking himself with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose popularity has sagged in recent years.
Mr. Bainum said in an interview he admires Mr. Schaefer's willingness to take on special interests. "While I don't always agree with Governor Schaefer on issues, if elected I'd aspire to have as much political courage as he has," Mr. Bainum said.
He also said that if elected he would recruit nationally for his administration, but made a point of saying he might retain some key Schaefer aides at the Cabinet, sub-cabinet and State House staff level.
He would not specify whom he might ask to stay, but spoke in glowing terms during the interview of Nancy S. Grasmick, the state schools superintendent.
Encouraged by Schaefer
The governor, searching for a successor, encouraged Mr. Bainum to enter the race, as he did two other announced candidates, State Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, a Baltimore
Democrat, and Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley of Baltimore County.
The TV ads, the first this year in the governor's race, are to run for the next month over the air and on cable in the state's four major media markets -- Baltimore, Washington, Hagerstown in Western Maryland, and Salisbury on the Eastern Shore.
In one polished, 30-second spot shown to reporters last week, Mr. Bainum is introduced to voters as a no-nonsense, fiscally responsible businessman and former legislator who can nonetheless poke fun at himself for driving an 8-year-old car.
Looking younger than his 48 years, Mr. Bainum also is seen talking to employees in his shirt sleeves and playing ball with his son Bradford, 2, while the announcer tells viewers, "As Maryland's next governor, he'll go to bat for us."
The ad, developed by Payne & Co., a Boston political media consultant, is the first of at least two, possibly three, that will be shown in coming weeks.
Mr. Bainum pegged the price for purchasing the television time at more than $500,000 but well below $1 million -- all of it coming from the candidate's deep pockets.
His net worth
He said he did not know his precise net worth, but put the value of his stock in Manor Care Inc., the firm he has headed since 1987, at about $50 million. He has other, less extensive holdings as well, he said.
As for how much of his financial resources he is willing to spend to win the primary, he said, "Enough to get a plurality," which seems to translate to whatever it takes. Although individuals and corporations are limited in the money they can contribute to a candidate, the candidate can donate or lend his or her campaign any amount.
The Chevy Chase resident will present himself as a fiscally conservative entrepreneur whose success in the nursing home and hostelry fields has groomed him for the state's highest office.
Like Ross Perot and other rich men who have reached for high office, he intends to tell the voters that he will run the government like a business, making it more responsive to
residents, whom he equates with customers who pay with taxes for services.
On that point, he promises an overhaul -- his phrase is "fundamental reform" -- of the state personnel system, saying it is antiquated and unresponsive. "Why should we allow a 19th century . . . system to take us into the 21st century?" he said. "It has to be changed."
His plans for revamping it involve incentives and punishments, which could put him at odds with state employee unions. In his system, he said, "People who work hard and do a good job are rewarded and people who don't work hard and don't do a good job are held accountable."
Other issues on which Mr. Bainum expects to campaign include:
* Education. He favor bonuses for teachers and other personnel at schools that do well in statewide standardized tests, an idea discussed in state education circles in recent years. He distinguished his proposal from merit pay, which would go only to individual teachers.
* Crime: He wants more police on the streets, as do most of his rivals, and to open schools at night so young people have a place to go. He also proposes reducing prison sentences for inmates who earn high school or college degrees. "Diplomas are crime stoppers," he said.
* Economic development: He said he will put together an overall plan to lure new business to the state, with an eye toward making Maryland "the most hospitable research and development state in the country."
Mr. Bainum plans to portray himself as a nonpolitician, but one with a difference. He served a term in the House of Delegates from 1979 to 1983 and another in the state Senate from 1983 to 1987 before taking up duties as chief executive of Manor Care.
He has dramatically expanded the firm founded in 1968 by his ex-plumber father, Stewart Bainum Sr., more than doubling its annual revenues over the past seven years, from $483 million to $1.2 billion.
Today, Manor Care, a Forbes 500 company, owns the third largest nursing home chain in the United States and franchises hotels under such familiar names as Econo Lodge and Comfort, Quality, Clarion, Sleep and Rodeway Inns.
Lost to Morella
His transition from politics to the board room, however, was not ++ by choice. In 1986 he gave up his Senate post to run for an open Montgomery County congressional seat, spending $411,000 of his own money, according to Federal Election Board records. He lost to Constance A. Morella 53 percent to 47 percent despite outspending her 2-to-1.
In 1981, he ran in a special Democratic primary for a congressional seat situated mostly in Prince George's County, spent about $168,000 of his own money, and ran fourth in a large field of candidates, many better known and more experienced ** than him.
That track record, with its implications of intense political ambition, may make the nonpolitician label hard to sell, said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research, which conducts polls for news organizations.
"He's different from the guy who spends his whole life in business and decides to try politics as a second career," said Mr. Coker. "The only reason he's not a public official today is because he lost his last campaign. For Stew Bainum, business is a second career."
His money could be a two-edged sword. He argues that his wealth insulates him from special interests in that he need not rely on them to help bankroll his campaign, but his rivals are likely to allege that he is trying to buy the election.
"We don't think he can win because people in Maryland cannot be bought," said David Seldin, spokesman for Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's county executive and a leading Democratic candidate for governor.
Added Mr. Seldin, "At a certain level people are offended by somebody coming in and saying, 'Because I've inherited a lot of money, I don't have to go out and meet people one-on-one and do the kinds of grass-roots organizing that brings people into a campaign on a personal level.' "
Not all Mr. Bainum's rivals share that view. Mr. Miedusiewski, who helps run the family tavern rather than the family conglomerate, was philosophical. "This is America," he said. "The guy's got money, and he's entitled to spend it."
Mr. Miedusiewski also maintained that the impact of big bucks on a campaign can be overrated, saying, "He [Mr. Bainum] got into the race with Morella, spent a lot of money there, and money didn't compute to a victory."
Rivals greet candidacy
Kevin S. Keefe, campaign manager for another Democratic hopeful, State Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County, greeted the news of Mr. Bainum's long anticipated candidacy by saying, "It's good for us. . . . It's one more male candidate for us to stand out against."
Dan Walter, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, whose Pikesville political base is in the Baltimore area, also called Mr. Bainum's candidacy "good news" because he will be forced to compete with Mr. Glendening and Ms. Boergers for the suburban Washington vote.
"It splits that [Capital] Beltway vote three ways," Mr. Walter said. "They can divvy up that vote and Mickey can take Baltimore and become the next governor."
During his eight years in the General Assembly, Mr. Bainum compiled a generally liberal voting record, favoring abortion rights, environmental safeguards, gun control and probate reform.
As a legislator, he was closely associated with efforts to deprive the Burning Tree Country Club in Bethesda of its state tax exemption on grounds that it violates the state constitution by refusing to admit women.
Mr. Bainum has been testing the political waters since early this year. In addition, he and his wife, Sandy, have held a dozen dinner parties at their home in recent weeks to promote his candidacy to political, civic and religious leaders.
His campaign manager is Ralph Murphine, a political consultant whose resume lists 37 national or statewide campaigns. The most recent was in 1989 when he worked for the successful gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey, Jim Florio.