Governor endorses Willis over Schaefer

Candidate for comptroller is longtime friend, adviser

Incumbent's behavior assailed

August 24, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Trying to give a boost to a longtime friend and taking a swipe at a more recent nemesis, Gov. Parris N. Glendening endorsed John T. Willis yesterday over incumbent William Donald Schaefer in the race for the Democratic nomination for comptroller.

Glendening said he is supporting Willis - the secretary of state who has been the governor's friend and adviser for 20 years - because the two hold the same views on a variety of issues, ranging from the environment to party loyalty.

But Glendening said an equally important factor in his decision was the way Schaefer has handled himself as comptroller during the past four years. Schaefer has used his position on the Board of Public Works to demean officials who come before the board and as a platform to attack the administration's agenda, Glendening said.

"William Donald Schaefer has spent the last four years using his office as a stage for one person, and that is himself," Glendening said in an interview.

"I believe in treating people with respect, as does John Willis, and it's an affront to the dignity of that office the way the current comptroller treats people," he added.

Schaefer, a former two-term governor who was elected comptroller in 1998, responded by assailing Glendening and his record as governor. The former Baltimore mayor also predicted Glendening's endorsement of Willis would backfire by helping him - not Willis.

"I treat people with respect if they deserve respect," Schaefer said. "Glendening deserves no respect from anyone. ... I have no respect for him because he ran the state into a 1 billion-dollar deficit."

Legislative analysts estimate Maryland faces a $900 million shortfall in revenue next year.

The war of words is the latest chapter in what has been a testy relationship between the two powerful politicians for most of the past four years.

Schaefer frequently challenges and insults the governor during bi-monthy meetings of the three-member Board of Public Works and often votes against land purchases to protect the environment.

Last year, Schaefer used a Board of Public Works meeting to flush out Glendening's then-secret relationship with Jennifer E. Crawford, who is now his wife. Schaefer was angry that Glendening turned off a fountain installed at Government House by Schaefer's longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, while Schaefer was governor.

More recently, Schaefer accused Glendening of being behind Willis' last-minute decision to enter the comptroller's race. Willis denies that the governor had anything to do with his decision to run.

Every statewide Democratic office-holder except Glendening has endorsed Schaefer, who is leading by 20 to 40 percentage points in recent polls.

For most of the summer, Glendening has largely stayed quiet about Willis' candidacy. But yesterday he accused Schaefer of being insensitive to women and minorities by calling them names such as "little girl" or "Afro" when they appear before the Board of Public Works.

Willis has been campaigning hard since he announced July 1 and has been attacking Schaefer's conduct in office, most notably his role on the Board of Public Works.

Willis said he is running as a liberal alternative to Schaefer - who endorsed Republican President George Bush over Democrat Bill Clinton during the 1992 election.

Although he lags in name recognition, several Democratic clubs, environmental organizations and the union that represents 30,000 state and local employees have endorsed Willis.

The governor said he will do anything he can to help Willis but acknowledged that his first priority is taking care of his newborn daughter.

Schaefer has his own advice for Glendening. "I think what he ought to do is take care of his baby and mind his own business and go out the door," Schaefer said.

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