- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the cantankerous veteran of Maryland politics, says he is prepared for what will likely be his most difficult re-election campaign in 50 years.

“I want to win every election as badly as the first race I ran,” said Mr. Schaefer, a Democrat. “I lost my first two races. I know what it is to lose. It is not fun to lose. I throw my full energy in any campaign, including this one, to win.”

Mr. Schaefer, who will turn 85 in November, faces a tough challenge in the primary from two candidates who have gained momentum from a series of highly publicized gaffes by Schaefer in recent months.

“I just think the Schaefer era is over,” said Delegate Peter Franchot of Montgomery County. “It’s time for a change.”

Mr. Franchot, 58, touts himself as “the real Democrat” in the race and says Mr. Schaefer and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, his other opponent in the primary, are allies of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who is seeking re-election.

He also said Mr. Schaefer’s “pattern of demeaning individuals … really indicate that he’s lost control of what he says and raises real questions as to his emotional and mental fitness for the job.”

Mrs. Owens, 62, agreed, saying Mr. Schaefer’s ogling of a young woman at a public meeting in February and his derogatory comments about Koreans at another meeting in July, have “demeaned his office and himself.”

Still, Mrs. Owens acknowledged that Mr. Schaefer is “an icon … who means so much to so many people.”

Sen. George W. Della Jr., Baltimore City Democrat, served on the Baltimore City Council when Mr. Schaefer was the city’s mayor.

“I was always mesmerized by the guy,” he said. “He was like the Wizard of Oz. … He was the guy who gave the city of Baltimore a heart, gave [it] courage, took the city of Baltimore to a new level, where it became nationally recognized as a city on the move.”

Mr. Della pointed to Mr. Schaefer’s work on building up the Inner Harbor, including the National Aquarium, and his “urgency to get things done and get them done now.”

“How can you turn your back on somebody who’s done so much?” he asked. “I hope [voters] haven’t forgotten.”

Still, Mr. Della acknowledged Mr. Schaefer’s gaffes, which have marked his entire political career, and an aging base of support might hurt his chances.

“He has outlived many of his past supporters, who had that same undying respect for him,” he said. “And I don’t know to what degree that has occurred.”

Mr. Franchot has garnered more Democratic endorsements than Mrs. Owens. However, she held an 11-point lead over Mr. Franchot in a Baltimore Sun poll conducted in early July.

Mr. Schaefer led the poll with 31 percent of the vote, while Mrs. Owens had 22 percent, Mr. Franchot had 11 percent, and 36 percent were undecided.

Mr. Franchot said many among the one-third of undecided Democratic primary voters have already made up their minds not to vote for Mr. Schaefer.

“The voters have not focused on who the alternative is, and when they do they’re going to have to choose between myself and another Ehrlich Democrat,” Mr. Franchot said.

Mrs. Owens says she has “done a pretty outstanding job” managing Anne Arundel County for eight years.

“I view myself as an independent, very fiscally responsible administrator,” she said.

Mr. Schaefer said he knows he faces “a difficult race,” but that Mr. Franchot has “no record” and Mrs. Owens has “a fair record.”

When asked who will still vote for him, Mr. Schaefer said, “People who know I’m honest. Can you write that? H-o-n-e-s-t. People who know I have a record of accomplishment, that I speak out and don’t try to play politics with everything.”

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