Schaefer fails to oust Landow Democratic Party chief survives vote

November 07, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow withstood efforts by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to remove him from his post last night, first turning back a no-confidence vote and then heading off resolutions that would have stripped him of his powers.

Governor Schaefer had asked the state party's executive committee to force out Mr. Landow after hearing concerns about the chairman's "one-man" style of leadership from members of the congressional delegation, the General Assembly and the party's State Central Committee, and from Democratic National Committee members from Maryland.

"I do not arrive at this decision lightly," Mr. Schaefer had said in a letter to the executive committee. "We cannot afford to go into this election season without the party working together in total unity. Clearly that unity no longer exists and is highly unlikely to be repaired in the time available."

A wealthy developer who has been a major fund-raiser for Democratic presidential candidates, Mr. Landow was able to overcome the opposition of his own party's titular leader with the help of other top Democrats -- including Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who spoke for him at the meeting of the party's executive committee.

"The Central Committee sees problems, and it also recognizes the good work of the chairman," Mr. Steinberg said.

Mr. Schaefer was asking for support from a group of party regulars who have not always regarded him as an active and involved party leader. The usual bank of IOUs that naturally accrue to governors was not there for him -- particularly against a party chairman whose fund-raising and professionalization of the party have been widely praised.

Even those party members who criticized Mr. Landow's tendency to make policy decisions on his own conceded that he had made important efforts to assist candidates and compete for the allegiance of voters -- a battle many party members believe has been won in recent years by the Republicans.

When the request to resign was delivered last week, Mr. Landow said he would resist -- and last night he prevailed, besting the man who had appointed him to the post.

Asked if she thought the governor had been repudiated, Pamela J. Kelly, Mr. Schaefer's chief political aide, said: "He asked them to do what they thought was best for the party." The dissension that had concerned the governor, she said, was evident in last night's showdown.

Mr. Landow said he has asked for a meeting with Mr. Schaefer, and an aide to the governor said such a meeting might occur today in Baltimore.

The chairman kept his seat on a motion of support for his leadership. After lengthy debate, the motion carried on a vote of 23-16.

"I'm humbled by that vote of confidence," Mr. Landow said at a news conference after a 3 1/2 -hour meeting.

Before the meeting, Ms. Kelly distributed a letter from the governor asking the chairman to resign -- but Mr. Landow said he did not believe he had ever been asked to step down. He said he had been told of the governor's wishes by "second tier" emissaries, but never by the governor himself.

In a meeting closed to the news media, Mr. Landow promised to be more open with members of the party who had grown restive with his style. "I have admitted some shortcomings," the chairman said afterward, adding that he had already set about addressing them.

"I think he means it," said Vera P. Hall, a Baltimore City Council member and vice chairwoman of the State Central Committee.

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