Anger flows over dry fountain

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's feud with Gov. Parris N. Glendening turned personal yesterday as the former governor denounced his successor for turning off an ornate fountain installed at Government House by Schaefer's longtime companion, the late Hilda Mae Snoops.

Appearing with Glendening at a meeting of the Board of Public Works, Schaefer unloaded his frustrations with the governor on a long list of issues. But he saved his greatest vehemence for Glendening's decision in May to cut off water to the fountain -- one of the best-known symbols of the Schaefer era in Annapolis.

Administration officials presented the move as part of a government-wide water conservation effort. But Schaefer was having none of that explanation.

"You turn off the fountain just to spite me," Schaefer sputtered as Glendening sat impassively at his side. "That's the most chicken thing I can imagine."

The comptroller punctuated his criticism by making clucking sounds.

The fountain -- festooned with symbols of Maryland's bounty -- was a pet project of Snoops, who served as the unmarried Schaefer's official hostess at the governor's mansion from 1987 to 1995. She died in 1999 at 74.

The comptroller, who has conducted a largely one-sided public battle with Glendening for more than two years, complained that the governor had not ordered any other fountains turned off.

"You hurt me through her. I'm really outraged," Schaefer said.

Glendening made no reply and stared ahead without expression. When Schaefer ended his opening remarks on subjects ranging from crab harvests to budget projections, the governor smiled as he asked Treasurer Richard N. Dixon if he had anything he wanted to say. Dixon did not.

After the meeting, Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said the governor's decision stands, referring reporters to a May 24 press release announcing a goal of cutting state government water use by 10 percent by 2010.

"The comptroller's fantasies about why this was done have nothing to do with the reality of what happened," Morrill said.

Yesterday afternoon, the fountain stood dry in the left rear of the Government House grounds, visible to the public through an iron grate fence on Church Circle.

The $169,500 artwork has been the subject of controversy and comedy since its conception in the late 1980s. Its financing -- largely by big corporate donors -- drew criticism. After its 1990 unveiling, some critics panned it as kitsch.

To some Schaefer detractors, it became a symbol of grandiosity and lack of sophistication. At one point, Snoops became so outraged at the barrage of comments that she threatened to sell the fountain. That incident inspired a skit in the General Assembly's annual Legislative Follies in which lawmakers lampooned Schaefer, Snoops and the fountain.

The fountain won a measure of vindication in 1993, when a magazine published by the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects singled it out for an award. Judges praised its design -- which incorporates such symbols of Maryland as the blue heron, tobacco leaves, crabs, oysters, corn and terrapins -- as "wonderful' and "accessible."

Schaefer, who noted that rainfall has been abundant this year, said after yesterday's meeting that he believes Glendening ordered the fountain turned off because of the comptroller's unsparing criticism.

"I go by it and I feel bad because it was really something the people of Annapolis and the state of Maryland liked," he said.

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