OCEAN CITY -- The Democratic incumbent, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, had the 35 union leaders on his side. The challenger, William S. Shepard, predicted he would win the hearts and minds of the rank and file -- as many as 28,000.
Representatives of Maryland's largest state government union treated Mr. Shepard yesterday to a pair of standing ovations preceded by a dozen shorter bursts of applause.
The display of support was defiant coming against the background of Mr. Schaefer's endorsement by the Maryland Classified Employees Association's board of directors. Working in tandem with its political action committee, the board voted in July before the primary election to endorse Mr. Schaefer.
Mr. Shepard said he thought the endorsement might ultimately work in his favor. Unhappiness with the process plays into his charge that Governor Schaefer practices the "politics of exclusion."
"I think MCEA members and other state employees will vote for Bill Shepard," he said.
Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, Paul E. Schurick, declined to respond to Mr. Shepard's comments or to those of the union members.
After applauding Mr. Shepard's speech at the union's annual convention here, individual members of the association were bitterly critical of their boss, the governor.
"State employees feel betrayed, condescended to," said a correctional department employee from Hagerstown who asked that her name be withheld. "What you saw [during Mr. Shepard's speech] is a reflection of the mood of disenchantment."
The union has been galvanized recently by a hiring freeze and rumors of other retrenchments, including involuntary furloughs ordered by Mr. Schaefer to overcome a $150 million budget deficit, according to Wayne D. Hurley, a lieutenant in the security force at Salisbury State University.
"We've gone from a surplus of hundreds of millions to a deficit. You can only blame that on one man," Mr. Hurley said.
Some members of the union wondered yesterday if the endorsement might be withdrawn, but the union's leadership seemed committed to Mr. Schaefer. The MCEA has 22,000 active members and 6,000 who are retired.
Joel D. Lehman, union president, said members of the union's board of directors and the trustees of its political action committee, TEAM, felt it did not need to interview Mr. Shepard, since they were convinced Mr. Schaefer was the superior candidate.
That view was a minority one yesterday.
"Thirty-five people spoke for 28,000," said Roberta K. Bennett, a union official. She said she was surprised no one called for a withdrawal of the Schaefer endorsement.
Mr. Lehman said the endorsement was based on Mr. Schaefer's willingness to give a 4 percent wage increase in lean budgetary times last year. The governor also backed off from a plan to conduct random drug testing of state employees, he said. And he has made Cabinet secretaries listen to the grievances of union members, particularly correctional personnel.
"Mr. Shepard," he said, "is untried and unproven."
If that is a deficiency in Mr. Shepard's background -- he is a retired foreign service officer who has never held elected office -- much of the union's rank and file seemed ready to overlook it yesterday. Many of them were wearing Mr. Shepard's blue and white, stick-on lapel signs.
Asked why he had been left out of the endorsement process, Mr. Shepard said union officials probably asked themselves, "What if we endorse Shepard and he doesn't win?" Several members of the union, including Mr. Hurley, said the leadership had to be concerned about retaliation from Mr. Schaefer.