As an accomplished political fund-raiser, Nathan Landow suavely courts presidential candidates, charms senators and sweeps congressmen off their feet. But when, as state Democratic Party chairman, he tried to court the state's local elected officials and party functionaries, Mr. Landow often seemed to bumble, stumble and fall flat on his face.
So some Democrats quietly exulted yesterday when Mr. Landow announced he was resigning. "The long ordeal is over," said one, a onetime ally turned bitter foe. "He was the most destructive and negative and divisive state party chairman in the last two decades."
Mr. Landow said he was quitting so he could devote his full attention to raising money for the Democrats' presidential ticket. But some critics claimed that the 59-year-old Bethesda millionaire's support within the state party had eroded to the point where he could not survive another attempt by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to oust him.
Almost from the moment Mr. Landow was elected party chairman in February 1989, he began shaking things up. He booted the acting chairman out the door, moved the party from Baltimore to a chic address near the State Capitol in Annapolis and announced a $250-a-plate fund-raising dinner for high-rollers.
Over the years, he angered some party officials by not consulting them on both trivial housekeeping items and, they said, important matters such as the dispersal of party funds to candidates. He became embroiled in a noisy public feud with Ronald Brown, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, over the rules of delegate selection.
Mr. Landow's independence ultimately angered his one-time patron, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who in November urged the party faithful to fire their chief. (The effort failed.)
By some accounts, Mr. Landow's performance at the Democratic National Convention in New York persuaded even some die-hard supporters that he had to go.
The chairman forced delegates to ride two buses to New York, while he flew up by plane. One bus ran out of gas. At the convention, the Democrats found Chairman Landow's feud with Chairman Brown had won them seats high in the bleachers.
Undaunted, Mr. Landow argued with Mr. Schaefer over who would announce the delegation's vote on the night Bill Clinton was nominated. And he refused to let other state party officials share the spotlight during the rest of the convention.
Overall, however, even critics grudgingly admitted that Mr. Landow improved party operations by providing candidates with services such as up-to-date mailing lists and help producing brochures.
But some problems have persisted. Before Mr. Landow became chairman, the Democratic Party was losing registered voters while the Republicans were gaining, particularly in fast-growing suburban counties.
Mr. Landow launched an effort to recruit new Democrats. The results? The losses continued. Between June 1989 and June 1992 the number of registered Democrats dropped by 98,900, to 1,335,780, the state board of elections said. Republican registration, meanwhile, rose by 11,712, to 636,433.