Landow relishes role of kingmaker


July 15, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- For Maryland Democrats negotiating the hurly-burly of convention life, the man to see is Nate.

Need a pass for Madison Square Garden or the party at the nightclub Tatou? Ask Nate.

Can't deal with croissants and raspberries for breakfast -- desperate for eggs and bacon? See Nate.

Sick? Need a doctor? Nate's physician is here and ready to serve you.

NTC Meet Nathan Landow, chairman of the Democratic Party in Maryland and one of the national party's most fabled fund-raisers.

In a world of big egos, Mr. Landow's is competitive with the biggest. He wants his stamp on everything. His eagerness to please his delegates is rivaled only by his penchant for controlling what they do.

"Nate has a large ego," says Del. Leon H. Billings, D-Montgomery, "but in my experience that ego has been directed to the good of the party.

"I doubt there's another delegation in New York that's as well served, as well cared for and as well organized as the delegates from Maryland. That's the way Nate Landow does business."

If he had a middle name, though, it might be combativeness or controversy or control.

He insisted on bringing Marylanders to New York, for example, in a caravan of buses -- but made the trip himself by plane.

Since he became chairman of the Maryland party just after the 1988 election, Mr. Landow has engaged in a series of intraparty battles, leading last winter to a serious effort to oust him. He prevailed, but the feelings of that fight remain.

Even before the Maryland delegation checked in last Sunday, the Bethesda developer was, as usual, disagreeing with party officials and presenting himself as an archetype of poobahs, "a big-time political fund-raising huckster," according to Congressional Quarterly's National Convention News.

When a party official said she didn't expect to see much fund-raising here in Manhattan this week,

Mr. Landow vociferously disagreed.

Similar outbursts offered on a sustained basis over the last few years have earned Mr. Landow the enmity of such notables as Ronald H. Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Some in Maryland's delegation are sure Mr. Landow's feud resulted in Maryland's assignment to seats well up in the Madison Square Garden bleachers.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski needled the chairman about this placement during a meeting yesterday. When she started her speech Monday night, she said, "I looked up . . . I looked really up . . . I looked way up and there was Maryland!"

The delegates laughed. Mr. Landow forced a smile. "I've taken a lot of heat over that," he said. Not that he thinks the seats are bad.

"They are good. A lot of big states are up there with us. Unless you're on the front line downstairs, these seats are better."

Insiders say Mr. Landow has paid a price for his hectoring of Chairman Brown.

When the national chairman held a party for state chairs last Sunday, Mr. Landow was not invited and may have been the only party chairman passed over.

This week's disagreements over the fund-raising question may have been a reflection of the long-standing differences he has had with party officials. Or it may reflect his all-points search for a way back to prominence in this year's presidential politics.

At various points, he has seemed to favor at least three of the contenders. He was on hand when Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin announced. He offered some assistance to Bill Clinton. And he endorsed Paul Tsongas after he won in Maryland.

Mr. Landow annoyed the Clinton forces when he insisted on having his own lieutenants running the candidate's Maryland campaign.

The unease grew deeper when he insisted on holding a !c fund-raiser for the Arkansas governor -- and then produced less than he promised. That seemed odd for a man whose ticket to political status in the past has always been fund-raising.

One of the earlier beneficiaries of his ability to raise money was Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, who ran for president in 1988. Mr. Gore, of course, is about to become the party's vice presidential nominee.

With Mr. Gore on the ticket, Mr. Landow seems poised to re-enter the party at a high level and to regain his deep pockets aura.

"A whole new cadre of fund-raisers will come into the campaign on a much more active level now," he says. "They will have a new comfort level with Clinton -- based on his chances of winning. That will translate into loosening up of contributions and fund-raising that may not have been there without him."

For Mr. Landow, this is a happy convergence of history, connections and money. It could help him achieve a personal goal. Win or lose, the party will need a new chairman.

A new chairman?

See Nate.

"I would love some day to chair the party," he says with a smile. "I've learned just enough to be dangerous now."

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