KURT Schmoke has done the impossible: He has made Parris Glendening popular.
Baltimore's mayor may have given Maryland's governor the perfect gift in his campaign this summer for renomination: a can't-miss issue that puts his opponent on the side of darkness and evil and places the governor on the side of righteousness.
Mr. Schmoke's endorsement of Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann in the Democratic primary could be the most stunning miscalculation in recent Maryland history. It threatens to blow up on Mr. Schmoke and his guru, Larry S. Gibson, who is also running the Rehrmann campaign.
What makes the Schmoke-for-Rehrmann pronouncement so shocking is that it is based largely on the mayor's wish to bring gambling to Baltimore.
Mr. Schmoke thought he had a firm commitment for slots in the city from the governor. He said so to reporters -- and the governor denied such a deal.
The mayor felt betrayed; it is time for revenge.
But his timing is off. Mr. Schmoke has picked the wrong issue. He has misread Maryland's political tides.
Every poll shows that Marylanders strongly oppose casino and slot-machine gambling, except when it's limited to the three horse racing tracks.
But sadly, proposals for slot machines reach far beyond racetracks. One of the mayor's top money backers, John Paterakis, long has had plans for a casino hotel. Black-owned slots parlors will be demanded in a majority-black city. Downtown hotels will want slots, too.
Once the doors are open, there's no stopping slots mania.
It won't end at the city line. Maryland could have the same slots corruption and addiction woes that recently have burdened South Carolina and Louisiana.
Voters know that and oppose such gambling. The mayor is leading a parade, but he won't have many followers.
Instead, he has saddled Ms. Rehrmann with an issue that sinks her campaign.
She can't win on a slots-at-the-tracks issue. Her embrace of Mr. Gibson and Mr. Schmoke ties her to big-city politicians, which doesn't play well in the suburbs.
Also, Mr. Schmoke can't deliver the voters Ms. Rehrmann needs. Virtually every state delegate and senator from Baltimore has endorsed the governor. They will be fighting to win the primary in September, with Mr. Glendening at the head of their ticket. The mayor's name won't even be on the ballot; his influence will be limited.
For Mr. Glendening, this is the perfect setup. He holds the moral high ground. "No slots, no casinos, no exceptions." He is standing at the gates, protecting the populace from the barbarians.
He can be morally outraged. He can display emotion and anger. He can speak for average Marylanders who don't want gambling in their "Land of Pleasant Living."
He doesn't have to debate Ms. Rehrmann or promote other issues. He can simply denounce her for her ties to gambling interests and to that eminence grise of Baltimore politics, Mr. Gibson.
Mr. Gibson is maneuvering for another Rehrmann endorsement from the other star in his political stable, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry. That holds far more danger for Mr. Glendening. Mr. Curry dislikes Mr. Glendening, his predecessor, for leaving Prince George's County deep in debt and failing to live up to his commitments of financial help.
That could hurt the governor in the Washington suburbs. But Mr. Curry may not swing many votes to Ms. Rehrmann either. The county's senators and delegates are backing Mr. Glendening, and they will be working hardest this summer.
All this Democratic feuding has Republicans cheering. Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's chances of winning keep improving.
Were that to happen, Mr. Schmoke would have the worst of all worlds: A conservative governor dedicated to shrinking government, cutting taxes and letting Baltimore climb out of poverty on its own.
If Kurt Schmoke dislikes liberal Parris Glendening's decisions, wait till he sees Ellen Sauerbrey's right-wing policies.
That's why the mayor's recent endorsement is so startling: It could deprive Democrats of the governor's mansion, where power resides to dictate budgets and political redistricting.
Talk about a Pyrrhic victory. This could be a textbook example.
Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor for The Sun.
Pub Date: 5/10/98