This weekend, the television advertisements begin, the ads that Mary Boergers hopes will distinguish her from the rest of the Democratic field and push her out in front as she runs her long-shot campaign for the Maryland governor's office.
"Mary Boergers stands apart . . .," the 30-second ad declares.
"Democrat Mary Boergers. One of a kind."
That she is. The Montgomery County senator, running fourth in the polls, is the only woman in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Political strategists say that was among the best reasons for Ms. Boergers to get into the race last year. In a crowded field, a female candidate sometimes can capitalize on her gender, draw the women's vote and vault to victory.
But Ms. Boergers says she is not running because she's a woman -- though she notes in her speeches she is "a wife, a mother." She's running, she says, because "men as well as women are tired of career politicians. I am a different kind of candidate."
Unlike candidates who center their campaigns on issues, Ms.Boergers focuses on the "different approach" she would bring to the job, a new look from a 13-year legislative veteran who nonetheless casts herself as "an outsider."
In her nine years as a delegate and four as a senator, she says, she too often saw "deal-making instead of discussion and new ideas."
"I'm someone who can step back, look at the issues and ask what we should be doing," she says.
Among her ideas for the Boergers administration: daytime curfews to keep children in school; an expansion of the Port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington Inter- national Airport; mandatory life sentences for a third felony conviction; community college programs for skilled workers; a tuition savings plan for parents.
And though Baltimore's delegation says she is mean-spirited about the city's needs, voting consistently against Baltimore projects, Ms. Boergers says her administration would heal divisions between the Washington suburbs and Baltimore.
Parochialism "is what's destroying the state," she says.
Ms. Boergers, 48, describes herself as not part of the Annapolis establishment, not a player in back rooms. She says that means she's independent, not co-opted by special interests. Her critics counter that it means she's ineffective, unable to build the coalitions crucial to legislative victories.
In the legislature, Ms. Boergers is known for her strong positions on issues such as abortion rights and domestic violence. She is credited with being smart, articulate and energetic. She is highly praised by women's groups for her hard work. And she is ever cheery.
But her aggressive style also rankles her colleagues, who complain she is a loner, a grandstander who stirs up confrontations when she should be extending olive branches.
Ms. Boergers has heard those descriptions and shrugs them off, attributing them to sexism and jealousy.
"People's idea about teamwork is you sit there with your mouth shut and never come to an independent idea," she says. "Because I'm female and I've challenged the system, I make people uncomfortable."
Blair Lee IV, a columnist for the Montgomery Journal and no Boergers fan, believes her campaign has faltered in part because it's filled with contradictions -- the feminist who says she's not running on a feminist agenda, the outsider with 13 years in office, the long-time Baltimore critic who promises to heal regional rivalries.
'No consistent theme'
"You have to have some consistent theme," Mr. Lee says. "Mary has no consistent theme other than 'I want to be governor.' And that's not enough to create a campaign.
"It's ambitious bordering on arrogant to think you can knock off a state in one summer."
But Ms. Boergers notes that in a crowded race, you don't need 51 percent of the vote to win. She has campaigned hard with her ticket mate, former Harford County delegate Barbara O. Kreamer -- the state's first two-woman slate.
Despite her efforts, pollsters say the campaign's prognosis is poor as the Sept. 13 primary nears.
A Mason-Dixon survey released this week showed her with just 8 percent of the Democratic vote -- down four points from her showing in July. She's running behind Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski.
'I knew the odds'
She says she's still positioned well to gain ground in the last week, now that she's able to afford television time. She had hoped to amass a campaign treasury of $2 million. Instead, Ms. Boergers raised $600,000 -- 80 percent of it through the hours she is spending each day calling potential contributors.
"I knew the odds," she says of her decision to enter the race. "I've always been the underdog."
A former high school history teacher and state lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, Ms. Boergers in 1981 was appointed to a vacancy in Montgomery County's House delegation.
In 1990, running with the strong support of women's groups, Ms. Boergers unseated Sen. Frank Shore, who had filibustered against an abortion rights bill.
Her biggest fans in Annapolis include women's organizations, who applaud her efforts on unglamorous issues.
"She was wonderful," says Susan Mize, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, recalling more than a year of effort Ms. Boergers put into a new law that grants victims of domestic violence greater rights and legal protections.
"It was definitely not your fun work, and there was no promise of success. Mary was always there, week after week."
Colleagues note ambition
But her colleagues in the legislature -- which doesn't lack for career climbers -- complain she is overly ambitious. And they wonder how she expects to be governor if she disdains being part of a team.
Some distrust her so much that an informal caucus of abortion rights legislators meeting last session pointedly didn't inform her of their meetings, though she has long experience fighting for the issue.
Baltimore's elected officials protest that she is a Baltimore basher who votes consistently against the city: No on the Orioles stadium at Camden Yards and no on expanding Baltimore's Convention Center. She said she would have preferred an international terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"She voted against the Convention Center simply because it was for Baltimore," says Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat.
City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat, is among the Baltimoreans with whom Ms. Boergers discussed the lieutenant governor's spot.
"She's basically a very liberal person who believes in the positive use of government to enhance the lives of people," Mr. Ambridge said. "But some of her rhetoric caused me concern. She's been very derogatory toward Baltimore, very divisive."
Baltimore's elected officials believe many from the Washington suburbs are insensitive to the city's problems. Ms. Boergers suggests it's the other way around: "Baltimore fails to understand that one of the reasons for the long-standing recession in the state is the fact that the Montgomery County economy fell apart."
Why did Ms. Boergers decide to give up her Senate seat for a run that was steeply uphill from the start?
Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political Media Research, says the Boergers candidacy fits the only-woman-in-the-race model used successfully by such women as Barbara Boxer of California, Patty Murray of Washington and Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois in their U.S. Senate races in 1992.
But in Maryland, he said, women candidates are not a novelty. Women, according to the recent poll, don't seem to be moving away from male candidates toward Ms. Boergers.
And the fact that she hasn't raised enough money to get on television early and help define herself has hurt the Boergers race badly, Mr. Coker said. "They still don't know who she is. She hasn't generated any momentum."
MARY H. BOERGERS
Home: Kensington, Montgomery County.
Family: Husband, David, two children.
Education: B.A., history, College of St. Catherine. M. A., American history, Catholic University.
Experience: Maryland House of Delegates, 1981-1990. Maryland Senate, 1990-present. Former high school teacher. Former National Organization for Women lobbyist.
POSITIONS ON ISSUES:
Taxes/budget: Says taxes cannot be raised any higher and favors some "targeted tax cuts," such as expanded sales tax exemptions for high-tech businesses, to spur economic development. Promises to cut $1 million from the administrative budget of the governor's office and would go line by line through the rest of the budget to find waste. Says she's not promising large new programs because of the tight budget.
Economic development: Would develop a statewide economic development plan, with a focus on small businesses, to help create jobs. Would direct state economic development officials to monitor larger businesses to be sure any expansions occur in Maryland, not out of state. Would link local economic development agencies to serve as an "early warning system" on industries in need of help.
Crime: Supports the death penalty. Wants mandatory life in prison without parole for those convicted of a third felony. Would expand boot camps and pre-release programs for first-time and juvenile offenders to keep them from committing further crimes. Would increase police officers on the streets by filling as many nonpatrol jobs as possible with civilians.
Gun control: Supports proposal to require the licensing of anyone purchasing a handgun and to limit the number of handguns an individual could purchase each year. Also supports limit on multiple-round magazine clips.
Abortion: A leader in the campaign for the Maryland law aimed at protecting the right to abortion. Favors lifting current restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions.
Schools: Says parents should sign "contracts" agreeing to help with attendance, homework. Opposes recertification of teachers and state takeover of failing schools. Would not increase state aid to schools and says "local governments must not be allowed to reduce their financial commitment simply because the state has increased funding."