Comptroller candidates are scarce Rehrmann, who showed interest earlier, says no to Democrats

Filing deadline tomorrow

Republicans rebuffed in effort to persuade Ecker to run for post

July 05, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

Even as Marylanders were mourning the death Friday of Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, the state's major political parties turned quickly yesterday to look for candidates who might compete for his mantle in the November election.

With the stakes high for Democrats and Republicans -- and the state filing deadline fast approaching tomorrow at 9 p.m. -- efforts to recruit well-known candidates were unsuccessful for both parties as of last night.

Influential Democrats urged Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann to abandon her primary challenge to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and run instead for the post Goldstein held for almost 40 years.

Though the appeals may continue, Rehrmann rebuffed the overtures yesterday.

"It's even more important to have a governor who's recognized for good fiscal management," she said, referring to the loss of the highly respected Goldstein.

At the same time, Maryland Republicans were imploring Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker to seek the post and leave his party's gubernatorial primary to front-runner Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

With Ecker as a candidate for comptroller, party leaders said, the GOP ticket would be far stronger in November.

But Ecker said he's not interested,either. "My answer is still 'no' on the comptroller's race," he said.

He is expected to announce tomorrow whether he intends to stay in the race for governor.

Some Democrats wondered whether Raymond F. Schoenke Jr., the Germantown businessman who has spent as much as $1 million in his own primary challenge, might quit the race for governor to run for comptroller.

But Schoenke said last night that he still intends to run for governor. "I have a big mountain to climb, but I have no desire to get out," he said.

With the outcome of the comptroller recruitment efforts in doubt, party leaders were left to consider the possibility of a free-for-all for a post that pays $100,000 a year and involves one of the most sensitive functions in state government: collecting taxes.

The comptroller is also one of three members of the state Board of Public Works, which oversees billions of dollars in state spending each year.

Campaign face changes

Goldstein's death at the age of 85 alters the dynamics of the 1998 campaign. It virtually guarantees a newly competitive race for comptroller in a year when competition might be needed to stir the voters' interest.

Those who would venture to run will have had no campaign apparatus in place, no fund-raising done and no alliances built.

But unless a Rehrmann or Ecker or Schoenke entered the race, every candidate would begin with the same disadvantages.

And the risk will seem minimal for those who see what is almost literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Goldstein had been regarded as absolutely unbeatable by leaders in the GOP as well as by Democrats. He was such an eclipsing presence that the line of succession gathering informally behind most high office-holders was almost nonexistent in his case.

A number of potential Democratic candidates took themselves out of consideration yesterday, including House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, state Del. Nancy K. Kopp of Montgomery County and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings.

Lapides weighs a run

One Democrat who did indicate an interest in running was former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a longtime Baltimore legislator who earned a reputation as a fiscal watchdog.

"I'm certainly weighing it carefully. I just have to feel it's the right thing to do," said Lapides, 66, who retired from the Senate in 1994 and lost a race for city comptroller in 1995.

The Republicans' most likely contender is the 1994 nominee, Timothy R. Mayberry, who was overwhelmed by Goldstein in that race.

Asked for the names of other possible GOP entrants yesterday, House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman mentioned only one, Del. David R. Brinkley of Frederick County.

Under Maryland's Constitution, when the comptroller's post is empty, the governor is charged with appointing a replacement with the advice and consent of the Senate.

No time limit is imposed, but the state's day-to-day operations -- signing paychecks, borrowing money for public works projects and voting on contracts -- demand a working comptroller.

"My job in the next 48 hours will be to fill that position," Glendening said yesterday.

"A lot of people have been making suggestions, recommendations, but quite honestly I'm still focused on the loss."

Rehrmann could become the consensus Democratic front-runner.

"An awful lot of people I've talked to in the last few hours are thinking along those lines," said House Speaker Taylor.

"If I were her," said Del. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford Republican, "I'd be the first one down there Monday morning to file. She'd be considered a favorite by many.

"If I were Parris Glendening, I would pay her filing fee."

Resisting the pressure

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