- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. presented a baked coconut cream pie to William Donald Schaefer at a recent Board of Public Works meeting, earning a warm smile from the sometimes cantankerous state comptroller.

Who said the honeymoon wouldn’t last?

Eighteen months into the Ehrlich administration — contrary to the expectations of many in Annapolis — the Republican governor and the Democratic comptroller remain on very good terms.

The relationship started out on a sound footing, but skeptics predicted the good feelings wouldn’t last long because Mr. Schaefer would turn on the new governor when the inevitable disagreements arose.

Mr. Schaefer’s palpable dislike of former Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening turned the biweekly meetings of the Board of Public Works into a battleground. Mr. Schaefer would direct harsh criticism at Mr. Glendening — who would sit silently, not looking at the comptroller seated just inches away to his right.

When he wasn’t attacking Mr. Glendening, Mr. Schaefer turned his ire to administration aides. He also tended to vote against Mr. Glendening, leaving the governor to depend on the support of State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp to get his agenda approved by the three-member board.

When Mr. Ehrlich took over as governor, he moved quickly to strengthen what he said was already a good relationship with the comptroller.

He earned a lot of points with the simple twist of a valve when he started the water flowing again in a fountain that had been installed on the lawn of the governor’s mansion during the Schaefer administration by the late Hilda Mae Snoops, Mr. Schaefer’s longtime friend and hostess at the mansion. Mr. Schaefer had been furious when Mr. Glendening turned off the water, citing drought-related water restrictions.

During his effusive praise of Mr. Schaefer at the fountain ceremony, Mr. Ehrlich called him the greatest governor in Maryland history.

Mr. Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel, continued to court Mr. Schaefer over the ensuing months with kind words and an occasional pie from the mansion’s kitchen.

“The comptroller does like his pies,” Mr. Ehrlich said with a laugh, adding that Mr. Schaefer also “has an unbelievably high respect for Kendel” and spends a lot of time with the Ehrlich family.

But he said the relationship is built on much more than gift-giving and words of praise. Mr. Ehrlich said a mutual respect developed between the two men during Mr. Ehrlich’s eight years in the General Assembly, which coincided with Mr. Schaefer’s tenure as governor.

“I think he appreciates my approach to government,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “We also share a lot of mutual friends.”

Examine campaign contribution reports filed by the two men and “you’ll see a lot of the same names,” the governor said. He noted that three of his Cabinet secretaries were also in Mr. Schaefer’s Cabinet and that his communications chief, Paul Schurick, performed a similar function for Mr. Schaefer when he was governor.

It is certainly to Mr. Ehrlich’s advantage to stay on Mr. Schaefer’s good side, and not just to make board meetings less unpleasant.

On those occasions when items on the Board of Public Works agenda involve disputes between the Ehrlich administration and the legislature, Mr. Schaefer is likely to be the swing vote. Miss Kopp was elected treasurer by legislators and is their representative on the board, so she is under some obligation to represent the positions of General Assembly leaders.

At a meeting last month, the treasurer and the governor wound up on opposite sides of a request for an exemption from the state Smart Growth Law for an expansion of Maryland Route 32 in Howard County. Mr. Schaefer was not present, but his stand-in, Deputy Comptroller Stephen Cordi, voted with Mr. Ehrlich.

Mr. Schaefer, who declined requests for an interview, often compliments Mr. Ehrlich on his job performance at board meetings and defends him against criticism from Democrats.

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