At a meeting he ordered closed to the public, Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow survived an attempt backed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to oust him from his powerful party position by pledging to be more open with his fellow Democrats.
After a meeting of Democratic Executive Committee members that ended late last night in a 23-12 vote endorsing Landow's continued reign as party chairman, Landow supporters were elated over their victory but mused about possible repercussions over their rebuff of the governor.
The 90-minute meeting in Annapolis was marked by numerous motions but little movement until a vote of confidence in Landow was forced. About 10 potential anti-Landow votes fell silent after several speakers pleaded for party unity.
An effort to vote on a resolution that would have stripped Landow of his powers as chairman was defeated as well a motion to table a vote of confidence in him.
"These kinds of debates are helpful," Landow said afterward, "provided they come out as they did this evening."
Landow promised to work more closely with other party members and to abandon what many say is his roughshod manner of handling party affairs.
Landow's critics said the nationally prominent Democratic fund-raiser and wealthy Bethesda real estate developer has run the party in a dictatorial fashion, making decisions without soliciting the advice of other members.
A campaign by some committee members to force Landow's resignation was joined by Schaefer, the party's nominal head, who sent wordthrough emissaries that it was time for the man he appointed two years ago to head the party to step down.
Even though Schaefer had never requested Landow's resignation in a face-to-face meeting, he made it clear that he was unhappy with the internal party strife caused by the rift over Landow's leadership.
"I know there's great dissatisfaction," Schaefer told reporters Tuesday. "When there's this much, it's time to make a change for the good of the party."
And, in a letter signed by Schaefer and delivered to committee members last night by his political aide Pamela J. Kelly, the governor reminded Democrats that he had asked Landow to resign but had been ignored.
Referring to Maryland's March 3 presidential and congressional primary races, Schaefer wrote: "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. It was in this spirit that I requested the resignation."
In a curious bit of political spin, Landow later argued that Schaefer had never called for his resignation except through a "second tier, second-hand message that's come down."
He said his relationship with Schaefer remains strong.
"The governor and I have the same goals and ideals," he said.
When the meeting ended, a dejected Kelly called the Landow verdict "a split vote, a split party."
"I think you saw dissension in there tonight," she added. "I think you saw concern. I think they've got to work it out."
Although he did not come out openly in support of Landow, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, the highest ranking public official to attend the meeting, spoke movingly in favor of settling party differences without necessarily forcing the chairman's resignation, according to members who listened to him.
Party observers said Steinberg, who is waging an unofficial campaign for governor in 1994, could further strain his frayed relationship with Schaefer because of his implied support of Landow.
Asked afterward if the vote for the party chairman was a repudiation of the governor, Steinberg replied: "I can't make any comment on that. It's a central committee matter."