Copyright 1993 The Washington Post
The Washington Post
June 9, 1993, Wednesday, Final Edition
SECTION: METRO; PAGE B1
LENGTH: 1252 words
HEADLINE: Running to Be No. 1 in Md.;
The Lt. Gov. Wants to Move Up in the World
BYLINE: Richard Tapscott, Washington Post Staff Writer
The 200 well-dressed people at the annual dinner of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce were intent on installing new officers
and presenting awards, but Melvin A. Steinberg was doing his level best to win them over.
The Maryland lieutenant governor who would like to be governor
squeezed his usual 30-minute stump speech down to five minutes, and the
result was a rapid-fire blur of "crisis" issues, "really important" statistics and "vital" programs, none of them burdened by specifics.
William Toby Beach, the chamber's new president, listened
to Steinberg's remarks and shared a table with him and eight others at
night dinner in Bethesda, yet he said he took away no new insights into the state's No. 2 elected official.
"It's tough to make an impression in such a short period
of time," Beach said yesterday morning. "It's nothing for or against [Steinberg].
was on so many other things." Though his 1994 candidacy went unstated during his formal introduction and brief address, Steinberg was in
Montgomery County doing missionary work for that campaign. It was one of the frequent trips he has made this year to the state's most
populous county, an area he badly needs to cultivate before the Democratic Party primary.
Steinberg's 27 years as a State House insider has given
him, at times, a personal and political style that is difficult to translate
to outsiders, as
when he told chamber members that Montgomery should be "compensated" for its "high retention rate" in school attendance.
But James Goeden, a member of the chamber's staff, said
Steinberg gained some level of acceptance Monday night in a wealthy county
feels it is alternately plundered and neglected by state government.
"The people at my table felt that if Steinberg had been
governor, with the troubles that Montgomery County faced in the last year,
would have been worked out so everybody would have got something," Goeden said, referring to state cuts in education aid to the county.
Even 15 months before the gubernatorial primary, such impressions
are important to Steinberg, whose current reputation is built largely on
enduring rift with Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
What most voters know about Steinberg, according to polls
and focus groups, is that he and Schaefer disagreed so violently over the
tax proposals in 1991 that Schaefer stripped his lieutenant governor of duties and staff, leaving him an office, a $ 100,000-a-year salary and
nothing much to do except cut ribbons and make speeches that serve his gubernatorial aspirations.
Schaefer leaves office next year after a maximum two terms,
and Steinberg is among the front-runners to replace him. Steinberg's
well-publicized break is helping him, said his pollster, Alan Secrest.
"The governor is nothing short of a pariah in the eyes of voters, general election or primary," Secrest said.
Others are not so certain that Steinberg can play both the insider and outsider to a wary electorate.
"The biggest thing Steinberg has to overcome is his association
with Schaefer," said Brad Coker, who conducts independent polls for news
organizations. "He's got to convince voters he's been an outsider the last four years but kept the title and took the paycheck. That's a hard
Montgomery County is important to Steinberg as a Democratic battleground.
A native of Baltimore who represented Baltimore County
in the state legislature from 1967 to 1987, he faces a determined effort
George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., both of whom are courting the suburbs.
Complicating the picture even more are the early moves
by first-term state Sen. Mary H. Boergers (Montgomery), who said she may
A statewide poll done in March by Mason-Dixon Opinion Research
put Steinberg in a statistical tie with Curran, with Glendening close behind.
When Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was added to the survey as a possible candidate, Schmoke came out the easy winner.
If Schmoke avoids the Democratic primary for governor,
as most analysts predict, it becomes wide open. "We still have an unformed
said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research.
To which Steinberg replies, "There isn't a guy in the race
who wouldn't trade places with me. My negatives are low, and I'm second
Montgomery County [in a recent poll]."
Steinberg, 59, is banking on his reputation as a dealmaker
and conciliator to help him prevail in a crowded Democratic primary. He
acclaim during Schaefer's first term for shepherding the governor's legislative package to approval.
Steinberg points to a restructuring of the University of
Maryland system and helping Schaefer secure funding for the new baseball
Baltimore as among his proudest achievements. It is Steinberg's pragmatism and willingness to seek compromises that has brought many
supporters to him.
Gilbert B. Lessenco, a longtime Democratic activist in
Montgomery, is helping Steinberg build a campaign organization in the county.
Mickey because he is someone who can pull the state together," Lessenco said.
Others, particularly Glendening, say Steinberg's penchant
for compromise and deal-crafting is part of business-as-usual in Annapolis,
too long played by insiders. His back-slapping bonhomie and borscht-belt humor strike some critics as anachronistic.
To Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker, the rotund
Steinberg appears to be "equal parts Hubert Humphrey and a guy working
counter at a deli."
That's about the right mix, says Baltimore lawyer-lobbyist Alan Rifkin, a political prote'ge' of Steinberg's.
"His humor belies the fact that he's extremely intelligent,"
Rifkin said. "He takes the humor and weaves it into the conversation, which
with the policy issues, and disarms the tensions when two people are at odds. That's a real talent."
In an interview, Steinberg talked about his way of forging
consensus, a manner which he said allows little room for ego and pride
"I may be wrong 90 percent of the time. So what? So What?" he repeated. If someone has a good idea, he added, "Put it on the table and let's
Like other candidates facing the slow-growth 1990s, Steinberg
advocates restructuring state government -- "right-sizing," as the buzzword
would have it. But Steinberg said decisions on the future of Maryland state government will be far from easy. "People in government are always
trying to solve the symptoms, to seek simple, expedient solutions," he said. "The answer is not to cut services or raise taxes. Government has
just grown too much, and we've been diluting high-priority items."
Steinberg, a successful lawyer and businessman, counts
on his base in the Baltimore area and friendships in the General Assembly
to be building
blocks for his campaign.
But one of Steinberg's closest legislative allies, Senate
President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), delivered something
less than a
ringing endorsement when asked his personal choice for a Democratic nominee. "It's very early," a cautious Miller said. "I admire Mickey
Steinberg, and I'm also an admirer of Kurt Schmoke, and I'm a close friend of Joe Curran."
Yet, Miller said, Steinberg is well trained to be governor
and has a good, blue-collar work ethic. "He has a unique ability to get
people, largely because of his sense of humor," Miller said.