Schaefer will face challenge in primary

Secretary of state files unexpectedly

little GOP opposition to him, Curran

July 02, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

In a surprise move, Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis entered the Democratic primary last night to challenge Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's bid for re-election.

But Maryland's Republican Party decided to aim its energy and resources at the gubernatorial campaign of Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, not fielding any high-profile candidates against either Schaefer or Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Other than Willis, the popular Democratic incumbents face what appears to be only token opposition this fall, after several little-known candidates filed before the 9 p.m. deadline for candidates to declare for the 2002 election.

In the comptroller's race, Schaefer said he had been hearing rumors for the past two months that Willis was considering a campaign. Schaefer said he believes Willis was put up to the campaign by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, with whom the comptroller frequently feuds.

"I guess I know who put him in. There isn't any question about that," Schaefer said last night. "He has a right to run. Everybody under our Constitution has the right."

Willis, a Baltimore resident, could not be reached for comment last night. He is an expert in Maryland electoral politics and has served as secretary of state since the start of Glendening's administration. He served as chairman of the committee appointed by Glendening to oversee redistricting. The legislative map created by Glendening recently was thrown out by Maryland's highest court.

A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's gubernatorial campaign said last night that Townsend has supported Schaefer's bid for re-election and continues to back the comptroller.

In addition to Willis, Schaefer will face one other opponent in the Democratic primary: Lih Young of Montgomery County. Young lost to Schaefer in the Democratic primary in 1998, and she also has run unsuccessfully for Congress, state Senate, and Rockville mayor and City Council.

Three others also filed yesterday to challenge Schaefer's bid for a second term as comptroller - Republican Augustus Alzona of Montgomery County, Republican Eugene R. Zarwell of Anne Arundel County and Green Party member Beth Hufnagel of Howard County.

Zarwell sought the Republican nomination for comptroller in 1998 - winning just 5 percent - and also has lost two bids for the U.S. Senate and one campaign for Congress.

Alzona is a gun-rights advocate who recently drew headlines for distributing a leaflet at a House Judiciary Committee hearing depicting three state lawmakers as Nazis.

Hufnagel, an astronomy professor at Anne Arundel Community College, said last night that she must secure the Green Party's statewide nomination and then collect signatures from 1 percent of Maryland voters -or 25,607 valid signatures - by Aug. 5 to appear on the ballot in November.

Yesterday's deadline applied to races for statewide and local offices. General Assembly candidates have been given an extra week by the state's highest court because of lawsuits challenging Maryland's redistricting map.

As recently as yesterday morning, state Republican officials were unsure whether anyone would file to challenge either Schaefer or Curran, and they made it clear they didn't expect any well-known challengers to emerge.

"We live in the era of the real, and the real is that right now the party is weak," said Ehrlich, who formally filed for the governor's race yesterday. "Once you win and show people you can make progress, then you begin to attract more attention and more talented candidates for other offices."

State GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele - who was announced as Ehrlich's running mate yesterday - said he would have preferred to get credible, well-financed candidates for all offices. "But if we do not have comptroller and attorney general candidates, all is not lost, because we still have strong legislative candidates," Steele said.

Other Republican lawmakers said Schaefer and Curran are so well-known to Maryland voters - and have such high approval - that it's not worth taking on the two veterans.

"In a way, why bring voters out to vote for Schaefer or Curran, when there's a good chance if they come out they're going to vote for the straight Democratic ticket?" said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican. "Sometimes you're better off not running someone against a popular candidate."

In the campaign for attorney general, two Baltimore County Republican lawyers will fight for the chance to take on Curran: Edwin MacVaugh and Jeffrey N. Pritzker.

MacVaugh ran for the House of Delegates in the Towson area in 1994, losing in the Republican primary to Del. James M. Kelly. He also was a finalist to be picked as a replacement to Kelly this winter after the delegate took a job in the Bush administration.

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