When the bad news arrived, William Donald Schaefer stood by himself near a television set, trying to pretend it didn't hurt. "Glendening wins," an announcer said. The governor winced. "Sauerbrey wins, vows to cut taxes 24 percent." Schaefer listened and jammed his hands into his pants pockets, shook his head, tightened his lips until they seemed to vanish into his face.
"We're gonna turn this state around," said Ellen Sauerbrey, the Republic gubernatorial winner.
"Twenty-four percent," Schaefer muttered. "She knows she can't cut taxes like that. She knows it. She'd have to reduce a thousand state employees in the first six months, and then she'd have to cut education, police, firefighters. She knows she can't do that. If that's the price the state pays . . ."
His voice trailed off. Now came Parris Glendening on the TV screen, the Prince George's County Democrat who's not only the front-runner but also the man who could start turning out the lights in Baltimore.
"This guy's never shown he has any interest in Baltimore," Schaefer said. "Where's he stand on Baltimore? You have to understand poor people, homeless people, dirt, trash, kids who don't have families, and this guy . . ."
Again, the voice trailed off. It didn't matter. The things he was saying were being echoed elsewhere. For all Parris Glendening's generic talk of bringing the state together, for all the support he gets from Kurt L. Schmoke, this is brand new territory we're entering, this historic shift of political power from the orphaned city of Baltimore to the lush Washington-area suburbs.
At Martin's West election night, Mickey Steinberg's people gathered as though in mourning. A mausoleum, somebody called it. But it wasn't just Steinberg's political loss, some were saying, it was Baltimore's, too.
"I think the city suffers now," Dennis Rasmussen, the former Baltimore County executive, was saying. "Parris has a history of saying what he needs just to get through an election. I don't care who you are, you're gonna have a feeling for your roots. I had it for the east side when I was county executive. He'll have it for the Washington area."
"He'll go after the things the city needs," said campaign worker named Jay Yospe, "and the legislature will say, 'Stick it.' And Glendening will tell Schmoke, 'Hey, I tried,' instead of really fighting for it."
Some of this was election-night blues, and some not. The city feels shaky, and parts of Baltimore County are beginning to share those jitters. In bad times, there's been comfort in having a governor with Baltimore roots. Even in their worst moments, Schmoke knew he could count on Schaefer for financial help.
As the early returns came in election night, American Joe Miedusiewski sat with his wife in a room at Harbor Court Hotel. He ordered room service, and it sounded like the city's last supper.
"Baltimore's now lost its center of power," he said. "There's a population shift we can't overcome. We have to be wary. Parris now pays off a lot of debts to the suburbs. This means a quicker decline for the city, which will fuel a decline of certain parts of Baltimore County. It doesn't bode well."
On election night, Glendening was having none of this. He made a few swipes at generic graciousness -- "bring the whole state together," he said -- but he needs to do more. A few blocks south of Miedusiewski's hotel room, his people gathered at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, on Key Highway, on a street Glendening should check out.
It was pretty busted up, and a wind from the harbor blew gusts of dirt all over the place. A couple of stray dogs lapped water from a puddle. In the museum, there were industry exhibits dating back many generations, and you realized, this is a terribly old city, and its gifts and its woes ultimately reach everyone.
Glendening needs to go to a place like this, to sense the history, and to see the streets outside. He needs to make one of those TV commercials of his from a place like this, or a busted-up area like Fulton and Baker, or a nervous Patterson Park, and say very specifically:
"I know what Baltimore's going through. I come from a place that has problems like yours, and I understand clearly: If you don't make it, none of us in this state can make it. And that's the reason I won't let Baltimore down."
And he needs to say it loud enough to be heard in the Washington-area suburbs.