Comptroller William Donald Schaefer may be campaigning for fellow Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in her bid for governor, but his closest and most loyal supporters are split, with some actively backing her Republican opponent.
About half of Schaefer's inner circle -- a powerful group of about a dozen Democrats who have been his friends and political advisers for decades -- are supporting Townsend.
But others connected with Schaefer's office and his run for re-election are handing out campaign literature for Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., raising money for him, and have printed "Ehrlich/Schaefer" bumper stickers.
Several of Schaefer's employees also display Ehrlich bumper stickers on their cars.
The split has prompted at least one shouting match during a strategy meeting, Schaefer supporters said last week.
Schaefer, who is appearing in a Townsend television commercial, said he doesn't care whom his friends vote for as long as they also support him. "It is OK with me. They have a right as Americans to vote for who they want to," he said.
Those involved blame the fracture on Ehrlich's support for slot machines at racetracks and Townsend's ties to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
The nasty Democratic primary for comptroller, in which Glendening spent $50,000 on ads that attacked Schaefer, 80, as a racist and sexist, also drove some longtime Democrats into Ehrlich's camp.
"Lots of strong Schaefer people I know are for Ehrlich, probably some of the strongest," said Gene Raynor, Schaefer's campaign manager and lifelong Democrat who now backs the Republican.
"Ehrlich was good to Schaefer. Ehrlich endorsed Schaefer. Some people endorse, while some people use."
Elmer Horsey, Schaefer's campaign treasurer, is also supporting Ehrlich, as are several members of Schaefer's Cabinet from when he was governor.
Louis J. Grasmick, a Schaefer confidant, said he sponsored a fund-raiser for Ehrlich two weeks ago that raised $75,000 from contributors he called "longtime Democrats and Schaefer supporters."
"We inherited a lot of the Schaefer infrastructure from the past," Ehrlich said. "We have a lot of his Democratic operatives working for us in East and South Baltimore."
Ehrlich says he believes the support is boosting his poll numbers in several Baltimore neighborhoods -- such as Little Italy, Highlandtown and South Baltimore -- that have traditionally been Schaefer strongholds.
One longtime Schaefer supporter from South Baltimore, Dominic M. Leone Jr., is distributing 1,000 "Ehrlich/Schaefer" bumper stickers and 20,000 pieces of pro-Ehrlich literature in the city between now and Election Day.
Peter Hamm, a Townsend spokesman, said the campaign is not worried about Schaefer loyalists working for Ehrlich.
"We are very happy to have the No. 1 person in the Schaefer organization, William Donald Schaefer himself, working for us," said Hamm.
Among those Schaefer allies sticking with Townsend are Mark L. Wasserman, a longtime Schaefer adviser, and Lainy Lebow-Sachs, Schaefer's best friend. Bishop L. Robinson, a Schaefer friend who is the secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Justice, is also supporting Townsend.
"I'm a Democrat and I think Kathleen will make a great governor," Lebow-Sachs said. "But there is no question, in terms of close friends, there are people for Ehrlich and people for Kathleen and I think this is the first time there has been this kind of split."
Schaefer said some of his friends and employees are working for Ehrlich because they believe Townsend supporters backed John T. Willis during the Democratic comptroller primary. Townsend was a vocal supporter of Schaefer during the primary, even criticizing Glendening for his ads.
Despite the split, both sides agree that they remain strongly committed to Schaefer.