Burton on the Bay
Vol. 9, No. 36
September 6 - 12, 2001
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Glendening Shut off Schaefer’s Fountain:
Now Look Who’s in Hot Water

In the hexameter rises the fountain’s silvery billows …
“The Ovidian Elegiac Metre”: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Translated from Schiller, 1799.
I confess ignorance of the location of the particular hexameter mentioned above, but it brings to mind another plot of ground where there are no silvery billows spraying skyward from a fountain that is the centerpiece of an ongoing controversy. Sadly, not as much as a trickle bubbles from it these days.

I am, of course, referring to the fountain at Government House in Annapolis, where Gov. Parris Glendening is the bachelor tenant. Though the fountain has been dry since May, his decision to turn it off back then as a “water conservation” measure is inundating him in a quagmire that just may wash away any future he might hope for in politics when his current term expires.

The same Coleridge referred to in our beginning this week wrote in the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:

Water, water everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

Had the guv - instead of picking a fight with his predecessor William Donald Schaefer, now our independent state comptroller and no patsy to the Glendening regime - just turned the water back on so at least the birds could drink and bathe, he might not be in hot water. Nor would his deputy chief of staff, one Jennifer Crawford, who is obviously his heartthrob of the moment.

One might say the current governor, who has been known to be mean spirited when someone balks at any aspect of his agenda, picked the wrong guy to hassle. The former governor is teaching his successor a thing or two about playing hardball - and the press and the citizenry is being treated to quite a spectacle, one that probably could have been avoided had Glendening just turned on a spigot.

The fountain, a pet project of Schaefer’s companion the late Hilda Mae Snoops, remains quite a story of pettiness by Glendening, who has been separated from his wife since last year.

But the fountain isn’t the big story any more.

The big story has become the Glendening relationship with an underling (underling at least in government matters), and the story wouldn’t have gotten all the press had not William Donald brought the whole thing up at a recent Board of Public Works meeting.

There had been a lot of gossip among legislators, government officials, bureaucrats, state employees and plain folks, but with few exceptions the press pretty much laid off the story in these days of political correctness, pleading what the governor does in his private life is his business and not fodder for print or air time.

But once a former governor who also happens to be current state comptroller brings the whole mess out into the open, even the holier-than-thou Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, both big Glendening boosters, could no longer ignore the governor’s private relationship - especially in view of the way Schaefer made it public.

He wanted the fountain turned on, and he knew it was dry not as a water conservation move but because he didn’t play follow the leader in Board of Public Works decisions. And he had an ace up his sleeve, something more significant in the public eye than turning a faucet counter clockwise on a fountain.

By word of mouth, he had heard all the gossip the media hushed up. So he aired the juciest part: that Crawford, who has climbed up the ladder in the governor’s office the past few years, is a big decision maker in the administration. So King Crab announced with the media in attendance he was taking his plea to get the water running to Crawford, who he says “runs things.”

Certainly he doesn’t expect the fountain will be gushing again; Crawford is said to be as hard-nosed as the governor. But Schaefer has been around long enough to know that he was opening Pandora’s box. He’s been in politics much longer than Crawford, 34, has been on this earth - and probably also longer than Glendening, 59, has been around. Let the chips fall where they may.

It’s a good thing that at last the cat is out of the bag. There’s much more to all of this than a dry fountain; a squabble between a current and former governor; the question of who is really the first lady (Frances Glendening or Jennifer Crawford); a meteor-like rise in pay and position of a staffer; cozy globe-trotting trips; or where companions are spending their nights (sometimes under press surveillance). That’s stuff for the National Enquirer.

Why We Should Care
What no one seemed to appreciate was that this liaison has become unhealthy politically and worse still for the citizenry of Maryland and a band of state government workers. Until Schaefer went public, few within the media either knew or bothered to make note that Crawford wields a big stick.

Even the respected Sun’s deputy editorial page editor Barry Rascover, who retired last week, earlier this summer wrote a Sunday column on the political ramifications of the Glendening-Crawford relationship but suggested it was a personal matter - another replay of the Bill-Monica saga. No mention of dire consequences relating to how government should be run.

Within Crawford’s domain in the governor’s office are, among other things, Smart Growth and three departments. One is the deeply troubled Department of Natural Resources that has become saturated with former Glendening assistants and political cronies - where not a small number of employees at various levels will admit in confidence that they feel the pressure. They don’t want to cross Crawford, not if they want to continue their careers in state government.

As Schaefer strongly suggested, the feeling within the department is “Get in her way, and you’re out.” Some DNR folk have already taken the hike. Among them are Pete Jensen and Mike Slattery, respected scientists who weren’t considered team players.

Slattery, who headed wildlife, promoted hunting programs, particularly for youngsters, and Crawford is known as an anti-hunter vegetarian. As head of tidewater fisheries, Jensen had been around for a long time, long enough that he felt an obligation to express his reservations about some suggestions from the guv’s office. Both got their pink slip on the same afternoon last April.

Sarah Taylor-Rogers and John Griffin were also canned both as top-dog DNR secretaries, and before them Dr. Torrey Brown. All had reservations, at least questions, about programs pushed by the meddling governor - and probably by the woman behind the throne. One fairly high department employee told me “She is to Parris what Hillary was to Bill. We stay as clear as we can of her. She gets what she wants.”

There had been speculation that Crawford was being groomed as secretary. But as she became the focus of so much gossip that such a move would have been inappropriate, J. Charles Fox got the nod. He has quite a task ahead to restore morale that has sunk to the level of a woodchuck in hibernation.

It’s tough enough to please the immediate boss. Then there’s the secretary, and above that level, there’s the governor and his deputy secretary. And it’s even tougher with scientists who manage. If their knowledge and findings don’t agree with orders from above, it’s shut up or play ball, which isn’t the way government should work.

Turn on the Water
The governor should turn that fountain back on. If he doesn’t, I’ve got a suggestion. The comptroller should run for governor against Glendening’s hand-picked successor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. There are probably sufficient voters around who are sick of things in Annapolis. Once again the water would flow.

Enough said.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly