Schaefer draws crowd Rally: Campaign for comptroller begins at a standing-room-only event.

Campaign 1998

July 14, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

William Donald Schaefer, funny hat and all, opened his week-old campaign for comptroller yesterday with a bit of political theater.

Four years after leaving the State House, the colorful former governor showed he can still draw a crowd as well as any political figure in Maryland. An estimated 400 loyal supporters swarmed the Baltimore Travel Plaza at 7: 30 a.m. for a standing-room-only pep rally.

There they gleefully watched Schaefer seize the starring role in Maryland's version of "The Odd Couple."

"I'm keeping my funny hats on. I'm keeping my buttons on. I'm feeling so grateful," Schaefer told his supporters, including some of the state's more accomplished political financiers.

Relegated to the role of second banana was Gov. Parris N. Glendening, seeking atonement for his initial failure to support Schaefer's bid to succeed Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who died suddenly July 3 after four decades in the office.

The governor's subsequent change of heart late last week was not enough to win him a place at the head table -- or even a mention in Schaefer's remarks -- but he did snag a front-row seat from which to catch the barbs directed his way by supporters of primary challenger Eileen M. Rehrmann.

For the 76-year-old Schaefer, the event was a joyous reunion with friends dating to his earliest days in the Baltimore politics of the 1950s and 1960s.

"Jurassic Park East," quipped former City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky, one of the many political dinosaurs in attendance.

The Schaefer gathering brought together some highly unlikely allies around a common cause. Not far from Glendening, whose anti-pollution initiatives outraged the Eastern Shore poultry industry, sat chicken magnate Frank Perdue. State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., perhaps the most vocal anti-gambling Democrat in the General Assembly, came from Montgomery County to an event organized by pro-casino businessman John Paterakis.

The guest list also illustrated Schaefer's consistent refusals to disavow friends who get in trouble with the law. Among the attendees yesterday were lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, now appealing his conviction on mail fraud charges, and Lalit H. Gadhia, who served a prison sentence for laundering illegal campaign contributions.

Schaefer also picked up support from several former rivals in city elections, including former Baltimore Solicitor George Russell and William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr.

Former State Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, who lost a tough governor's race to Schaefer in the 1986 Democratic primary, lauded his former opponent as "the absolutely perfect successor to Louie."

Sachs obliquely criticized Glendening's initial decision to name a close political ally, former Rep. Michael D. Barnes, to the influential watchdog role. Barnes' brief return to electoral politics ended abruptly after Schaefer jumped into the race 90 minutes before the July 6 filing deadline.

"Don Schaefer, if you haven't noticed, is independent," said Sachs. "They don't make 'em any more independent."

Schaefer, in his remarks, outlined an agenda that sounded much like a gubernatorial campaign platform -- including such priorities as healing regional divisions and promoting economic development. But he promised to respect the limits of the comptroller's office and do his best to get along with the governor and the state treasurer, the two other members of the powerful Board of Public Works.

"But I'm me," acknowledged the famously combative Schaefer, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

Glendening, who attended with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend without a formal invitation, marveled at the outpouring of support for Schaefer. "It's somewhere between the beatification of a saint and a eulogy," the governor told reporters.

If the governor felt snubbed by the cool reception he received from his predecessor, he didn't show it. "Don's going to do a great job," Glendening told reporters. He said he expected "maybe an occasional controversy" if he and Schaefer end up serving on the board.

Schaefer said he was sticking by his endorsement of the governor, but the comments of some of the former governor's allies pointed to lingering tensions.

The governor sat stone-faced as former Prince George's County Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a longtime Glendening nemesis, told the gathering he recently saw Schaefer in conversation with Treasurer Richard N. Dixon and Rehrmann.

"Man, what a good-looking Board of Public Works," he said, launching into a speech laden with digs at Glendening -- especially his actions in the 10 days after Goldstein's death.

The only speaker to venture a defense of the governor was

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., whose prickly relationship with Glendening has mellowed just enough to earn the governor a lukewarm endorsement.

"I think history will show that Governor Glendening showed great leadership in getting to the outcome of that 10-day period," the speaker said -- earning mild applause and scattered boos.

Despite the awkward moments, leading Democrats said Glendening made a good move by showing up and paying homage to a politician whose personal following he can only envy. "I was glad to see him," Schaefer said later in the day.

Rehrmann supporters openly wondered why their candidate wasn't there. "I wish she was," said Maloney. Rehrmann spokesman George Harrison said the Harford County executive had something else to do yesterday morning.

"We're not involving ourselves in the comptroller's race. We're involved in the governor's race," Harrison said.

In another matter, Schaefer said he was unaware that radio ads in which he appeared on behalf of Baltimore's First Mariner Bank were still being broadcast recently. He said he would act immediately to have their use discontinued; bank officials did not return a call about that yesterday. Schaefer added he was removed from the bank's board yesterday in light of his candidacy.

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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