A leadership feud in the Maryland Democratic Party is expected boil over tonight with a formal request by some ranking party members, backed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, for the resignation of Chairman Nathan Landow.
Citing what he called "great dissatisfaction" among party members with the way Landow has run his office, Schaefer said it is time for the wealthy Bethesda real estate developer to step down.
But Landow supporters, including some top General Assembly leaders, are preparing to come to his defense as the party Central Committee meets tonight in Annapolis.
Critics say Landow, a nationally prominent Democratic fund-raiser, has run the party in a roughshod manner, making decisions without soliciting the advice of other members.
"I know there's great dissatisfaction," Schaefer said yesterday. "When there's this much, it's time to make a change for the good of the party." The governor, who is the party's nominal leader, said he wanted internal party squabbling to end lest Republicans capitalize on dissension in the Democratic ranks.
"It's too bad that we got to this point," Schaefer said. "I'm not very pleased about it."
Schaefer, who hand-picked Landow to run the party organization two years ago, sent word asking the chairman to resign.
Landow refused and vowed to fight what he called a move by a handful of dissidents who back other potential party chiefs.
To rally support against a possible no-confidence vote at tonight's meeting, Landow reportedly has visited in recent weeks with top Democrats throughout the state.
Some State House sources predicted Landow will win in a close vote. The outcome, they said, may hinge on appeals for party harmony from such Landow backers as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.
But Pamela J. Kelly, the governor's top aide on party matters and a vocal Landow critic, predicted the ouster effort would succeed.
"Unless people are lying to me, I have the votes," she said.
In the meantime, Landow attempted to avoid a showdown rTC tonight by asking Schaefer to meet with him and iron out their differences.
"In the last several days we have had a debate in the party that has unfortunately focused on what is perceived as a few differences between us rather than on our many areas of agreement," Landow wrote Schaefer in a letter yesterday.
"I pledge to you my commitment to work harder than ever in good faith," he added.
Landow fell into disfavor among some Democrats for supporting a congressional redistricting that Schaefer opposed, even though the plan would have created new boundaries helpful to party incumbents.
He also has feuded with Democratic national Chairman Ronald H. Brown, which could make it difficult for Maryland candidates to get contributions from the national party, critics say.
Two weeks ago, several party officials sent Landow a four-page letter charging him with an "ongoing lack of consultation before major decisions are made for the party, including the taking of public positions not authorized by the party."
The letter was signed by Maryland's five Democratic National Committee members -- state Sens. Clarence W. Blount, D-City, and Juanita Miller, D-Prince George's; Baltimore Councilwoman Vera P. Hall and party activists Lanny Davis and Mary Jo Neville.
Landow said yesterday the move against him was the result of "a vindictive vendetta" put together by Schaefer aide Kelly, who he said had opposed his appointment to the chair.
Landow said Kelly is responsible for turning Schaefer against him.
Kelly said that at Schaefer's request she helped garner votes two years ago for Landow's election.
"I've been supportive of him for two years," she said, adding that sentiment against Landow has grown. "There's a lot of bad feeling out there. If I'm being vindictive, it's with a cause."