The second act curtain has gone up on the gubernatorial election year saga to reveal a breathtaking sight -- Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, the one-time Democratic front-runner, alone the stage, reeling, abandoned by friends and supporters, his campaign in near meltdown.
The performance of Mr. Steinberg over the past several months, a period during which he may well have turned likely victory into humiliating defeat, provided the high point of act one.
Mr. Steinberg continues to provide the dramatic tension. A victim of self-inflicted wounds, he has affirmed his intention to stay in the race despite a running-mate fiasco that opened him to ridicule and the subsequent desertion of his latest crew of
He will need to move quickly to correct his problems. With the passing last week of the deadline for candidates to enter the race, the campaign has now begun in earnest, with two months to go before the Sept. 13 party primaries.
On the Democratic side, Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive, has supplanted Mr. Steinberg as the front-runner. The other leading candidates are two veteran state senators -- Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County and Baltimore's American Joe Miedusiewski.
U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley leads the Republican field by a wide margin over Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Maryland House minority leader, and retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard, the party's standard bearer in 1990.
For the moment, Mr. Steinberg commands the stage as he tries to survive a week in which the flaws of the previous months seemed to achieve critical mass. He found himself within hours of Tuesday's 9 p.m. filing deadline without the lieutenant governor running mate required by law. He scrambled under the wire by tapping state Sen. James C. Simpson of Charles County.
By week's end, his campaign manager, press secretary and political director had resigned. In arms-control jargon, Mr. Steinberg's campaign had suffered decapitation, the destruction of the leadership.
Complaints against him boil down to an inability to delegate authority, a penchant for micromanagement and a failure to recognize that old-style political schmoozing has been replaced by modern campaign techniques.
Mr. Steinberg, whose net worth exceeds $1 million, says he will have a new team in place in a few days and vowed to use his own and his family's money if that's what it takes to rejuvenate his campaign. Recent Maryland political history suggests anything is possible.
In 1978, the under-funded Harry R. Hughes ran against three Democrats with a staff of two or three. In what became the quote of the campaign, the late state Sen. Harry J. McGuirk called Mr. Hughes "a lost ball in tall grass." Mr. Hughes won.
Mr. Steinberg's problems aside, the race for both party nominations has begun to take shape, but there seems general agreement among political professionals that most voters have not begun to pay close attention and that commitment to candidates is not yet strong.
Mr. Steinberg, 60, is the only candidate to hold statewide office, which accounts in part for what has become the cliche of this campaign, that the race was his to lose.
A lawyer from Baltimore County, he has served eight years as lieutenant governor under William Donald Schaefer, though the two had a bitter falling out three years ago when Mr. Steinberg publicly opposed a major tax package proposed by the chief executive. Before that, he served four years as president of the Maryland Senate, a body to which he was first elected in 1966. During his legislative career, he was known as an outstanding legislative tactician, playing a similar role for Mr. Schaefer until their split.
In January, a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research showed Mr. Steinberg leading Mr. Glendening 28 percent to 19 percent. By June, Mr. Glendening had surged into the lead, 31 percent to 21 percent.
Glendening campaign manager Emily Smith said she expects Mr. Steinberg to try to recoup with a barrage of negative television advertising. Although he has expressed distaste for such commercials, Ms. Smith may have reason for concern.
A few months ago, Joe Trippi, Mr. Steinberg's media strategist, was quoted in Regardies magazine as saying that if Mr. Glendening runs as a reformer, "we'll paint 'insider' on a life preserver, wrap it around his neck and throw him in the bay."
Mr. Glendening, 52, is the only candidate in the race to hold a major executive post. Once a full-time professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, he has served as county executive for 12 years.
As of last fall, Mr. Glendening had raised over $1.5 million in his quest for the $3.5 million he has budgeted for the primary. He has what is widely viewed as the most professional campaign organization on the Democratic side.
In April, after a long courtship, he won the endorsement of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, which allowed Mr. Glendening to extend his reach into the state's largest city with its overwhelmingly Democratic, majority black electorate.
Mr. Glendening's running mate is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. The choice has met with mixed reviews while reinforcing Mr. Glendening's liberal image.
Senators Boergers and Miedusiewski have been waging spirited campaigns, but suffer from severe name-recognition problems.
Mr. Miedusiewski, 44, served in the House of Delegates from 1975 to 1988 before moving on to the Senate.
When he announced for governor late last year, many felt that he was maneuvering for the No. 2 spot on the ticket of a better known candidate, probably Mr. Glendening. In fact, Mr. Miedusiewski has proved to be Mr. Glendening's greatest tormentor, airing radio ads questioning the competence of the front-runner.
Though strongly pro-labor, Mr. Miedusiewski has taken a conservative line, calling for beefed up anti-crime measures and intensified economic development efforts to provide more and better jobs.
Mr. Miedusiewski's running mate is state Sen. Bernie Fowler of Southern Maryland, a leader in efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, especially the Patuxent River watershed.
Ms. Boergers, 48, a former high school teacher and lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, served in the House of Delegates from 1981 to 1990, when she was elected to the Senate.
Despite nearly a decade and a half as a state legislator, Ms. Boergers has sought to portray herself as an outsider determined to battle the special interests that she says have a stranglehold on the State House.
She has named former state Del. Barbara O. Kreamer of Harford County as her running mate. The selection lends a decidedly feminist cast to the team, the first all-woman ticket in Maryland.
Ms. Boergers, like Mr. Miedusiewski, lags Mr. Glendening and Mr. Steinberg in fund raising, but Kevin S. Keefe, her campaign manager, says money is being conserved for a television blitz in the final weeks before the primary.
"This is the kind of race where women are most successful -- crowded field, a single woman, an open seat," Mr. Keefe said.
For the moment, the Republican race seems more predictable. Mrs. Bentley, 70, leads both Mrs. Sauerbrey and Mr. Shepard by 4-to-1 ratios. Comfortably ahead for the GOP nomination, the congresswoman from Baltimore County is running a front-runner's campaign, attending debates and candidate forums only when they suit her purpose.
"We've plotted our course . . . and we're not going to let anybody else dictate it or change it," said campaign manager Jacqueline L. Phillips.
Mrs. Bentley for a quarter-century was a reporter for The Sun, specializing in covering the port of Baltimore. From 1969 to 1975, she chaired the Federal Maritime Commission. In 1984, after two tries, she unseated long-entrenched congressman Clarence Long. She has been unbeatable ever since and shellacked Mrs. Townsend, Mr. Glendening's running mate, in 1986.
Mrs. Bentley is running with state Sen. Howard A. Denis, a veteran legislator from Montgomery County. His presence on the ticket gives Mrs. Bentley a beachhead in the state's heaviest voting subdivision.
Mrs. Sauerbrey, 56, has established herself as a relentless fiscal conservative while serving in the House since 1979. As the leader of the small GOP contingent, she has frequently challenged the policies and programs of Governor Schaefer and the Democratic majority.
For her running mate, the Baltimore County delegate has chosen ex-Howard County police Chief Paul H. Rappaport to emphasize her stated intention to get violent criminals off the street.
Seeking to overtake Mrs. Bentley, Mrs. Sauerbrey has been on the attack for months. Richards R. Badmington, a campaign spokesman, said she will continue to paint Mrs. Bentley as more liberal than she seems, with close ties to organized labor and a record of support for heavy federal spending.
Mr. Shepard, 59, a retired foreign service officer from Potomac, took on the thankless task of challenging Governor Schaefer in 1990, winning a surprising 40 percent of the vote with his wife as his running mate.
He has been campaigning virtually nonstop for most of the past two years. Though he has proved himself a tough competitor more than willing to mix it up with Mrs. Bentley, he has been less hard-edged than Mrs. Sauerbrey in his comments about the front-runner.
Mr. Shepard is running with Julia W. Gouge, a Carroll County commissioner and president of the Maryland Association of Counties.
Among several minor candidates, the best known is Lawrence K. Freeman, a follower of Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. In past campaigns, Mr. Freeman's proposals have included suggestions that Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and other prominent figures be tried for contributing to America's moral decay and face the death penalty if convicted.
THE GUBERNATORIAL LINE-UP
MARY H. BOERGERS
HOME: Kensington, Montgomery County
FAMILY: Husband, David, two children.
EDUCATION: B.A., College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minn. M.A., American history,Catholic University.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Maryland House of Delegates, 1981-1991. Maryland Senate, 1991-present.
OTHER EXPERIENCE: Former high school history teacher, member Montgomery County Charter Review Commission, state lobbyist for National Organization for Women.
RUNNING MATE: Barbara O. Kreamer, former state delegate from Harford County.