A leadership style described as overbearing and policy differences with members of his party's executive committee are pushing State Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow to the brink of a no-confidence vote, according to a number of party regulars.
Although he has made no official comment on the party leadership, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, through aides, has sympathized with the group of insurgents and reportedly is seeking a replacement for Mr. Landow.
The party's vice chair, Baltimore City Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, said last week that she feels Mr. Landow must moderate his "solo" style or leave.
Until now, Mr. Landow's efforts to modernize the party's day-to-day operations and his skills as a fund-raiser have insulated him from a rising chorus of unhappiness among party members who feel he sets policy and acts on it without consulting them.
Recently, that unhappiness has extended to the governor's office as Mr. Landow appeared to side with the governor's opponents on redistricting.
"Right now, in the heat of the moment," said a member of the governor's staff, "the minuses [of Mr. Landow's leadership] outweigh the pluses."
The governor's staff was incensed last week when Mr. Landow was the host for a Democratic executive committee meeting at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis, where Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, delivered a tongue-lashing against Mr. Schaefer.
Mr. McMillen believes the Democratic governor has intervened in the redistricting process in support of Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, whose county would be sliced into five different districts by one of the plans that purports to protect Mr. McMillen.
At the meeting, Mr. McMillen urged support for a redistricting plan backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.
Mike Miller understands the difference between a Democrat and a Republican," Mr. McMillen said. "I'm sorry to say the governor doesn't."
Although he said nothing at the time, Mr. Landow later disavowed the congressman's remarks. "That was Tom talking, not us," he said during an interview. "He asked to come by the meeting. When a member of Congress wants to come by and say a few words to the committee . . . he was not speaking for the Democratic Party."
Asked if he agreed with Mr. McMillen, Mr. Landow said, "No, not entirely."
"The part I agreed with is that we supported a plan of having incumbent members of Congress running in their own district. That's what the Democratic Party should have done," he said.
But some members of the party have criticized Mr. Landow's failure to immediately defend the Democratic governor.
Democratic National Committeewoman Mary Jo Neville called Mr. Landow's role in redistricting an affront to the governor and to Baltimore County.
"It's one thing to ignore us. It's another thing to ignore the governor," said Ms. Neville, a persistent critic of what she calls Mr. Landow's one-man style.
Some Baltimore County legislators are actively boycotting the party's Oct. 13 fund-raiser because they are furious over the redistricting plan they believe Mr. Landow supports, she said.
But Mr. Landow said other Democrats have applauded his role in redistricting.
"I hear good comments from people. What I hear is that's exactly what the chairman of the party should do," he said. At the same time, he said, he understands that the governor must pursue interests that go beyond party.
Redistricting is only the latest focal point of party displeasure with Mr. Landow's leadership.
Councilwoman Hall, the party's second-in-command, also criticized Mr. Landow for joining a movement at a recent national Democratic party meeting in Los Angeles which she saw as an attack on Ronald H. Brown, the party's national chairman.
In addition, she said, he backed changes in the national party's leadership structure without consulting members of the state executive committee.
"I think we've got a businessman who's so used to being a solo operation that he doesn't know how Democrats operate," Ms. Hall said. "We need to sing from the same sheet of music as a party."
But Mr. Landow denied that he has tried to operate the party on his own, citing a recent cooperative effort to combat Republican voter registration gains in the state.
"Nothing will work without their [the executive committee's] cooperation," Mr.Landow said. "I don't mind taking criticism. I'm trying to change us from a moribund state party to one of the most effective in the country. Not everyone will agree with what you're doing."
Whether the growing dissatisfaction among party members will be sufficient to draw the governor into an abrupt change of leadership was unclear. "I don't know what straw will break the camel's back, or if it has gotten to that point," a Schaefer aide said.