ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Transportation Authority sent a memorandum to its 1,200 employees last week urging them to sign up to work at the polls for Gov. William Donald Schaefer today.
"It was a gross error," said Mark L. Wasserman, the governor's executive chief of administration. "Very poor judgment was used."
William S. Shepard, the governor's Republican opponent, said it was worse than that. He called it a "serious abuse of office" and said Mr. Schaefer should apologize to the public and fire the memorandum's author.
"I think it is a desperate maneuver that shows they are dropping badly in the polls and had to get people out there," Mr. Shepard said.
The flap was caused by an Oct. 31 memorandum from Transportation Authority public affairs officer Thomas E. Freburger on behalf of John A. Agro Jr., executive secretary of the authority. The memo said the governor's office had contacted Mr. Agro that morning "asking us to canvass our employees to see which of them would like to work on the governor's behalf at a voting precinct on Election Day."
The memo asked division administrators to submit lists of employees who had volunteered by 3 p.m. that afternoon, or to call or fax their reports in. "If none of your employees are interested, please so indicate," the memo said.
Mr. Wasserman said it was true that Mr. Schaefer's campaign manager appealed to the governor's Cabinet secretaries to pass the word that any state employees who wanted to volunteer for the governor on Election Day would be appreciated. But he said it was never intended that lists of names be taken, that pressure be applied, or that there would be any hint of retribution against those who failed to show up.
Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary, said: "Mr. Freburger way, way overstepped his bounds on this. He had absolutely no authority. No one put him up to this. Thiswas his own doing, his own initiative."
Mr. Schurick said he knew of no other similar request in any other branch of state government, calling the memo the "first and only example."