Willis challenges Schaefer to reject Ehrlich's support

Amid dispute, opponents courting black voters

September 08, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Secretary of State John T. Willis called on his rival in Tuesday's Democratic primary, incumbent Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, to repudiate an endorsement Schaefer received Friday from the likely Republican nominee for governor.

Willis sent Schaefer a letter asking him to "disavow" the endorsement from Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a move that Willis says would show that Schaefer supports Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the expected Democratic nominee for governor. The comptroller endorsed Townsend 10 days ago but has said he will not criticize Ehrlich, whom he has called "a good man."

"For Ehrlich to be comfortable with Schaefer is not a good sign," said Willis, who is campaigning as a liberal alternative to the maverick Schaefer. "Ehrlich is clearly out of step with the core principles of the Democratic Party."

A Schaefer spokesman dismissed Willis' letter, saying Schaefer doesn't "discriminate" over who endorses him.

The squabbling comes as both campaigns are making a strong pitch for votes from African-Americans, who have traditionally been among the most loyal Democrats.

Willis is promoting an endorsement he has received from the Afro-American newspaper. Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who is backing Willis, is financing radio ads that accuse Schaefer of being insensitive to women and minorities - a charge the comptroller says is untrue.

The Schaefer campaign announced yesterday that Schaefer was scheduled to attend church services this morning with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Kweisi Mfume, but Mfume said last night that he probably will not be available. Mfume said the governor's criticism of Schaefer is unfair.

"Don Schaefer is not a saint, but in this instance, he is not a sinner," said Mfume, who added that he was not endorsing any candidate for comptroller.

Schaefer's ties to some Republicans and his more conservative views on some issues have been a key target of Willis' campaign. Willis has pointed out that Schaefer endorsed Republican George Bush over Democrat Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential election. "I can tell you I will not endorse [President George W.] Bush in 2004," Willis said.

Schaefer spokesman Bob Douglas said Willis' suggestion that Schaefer is not a good Democrat should offend the "millions of Democrats" who have supported the comptroller.

Ehrlich's spokesman, Paul E. Schurick, who once was Schaefer's chief of staff, also shot back at Willis.

"If Willis was a real Democrat, he wouldn't be challenging an incumbent Democrat," said Schurick, who is a Democrat.

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