Franchot makes bid to unseat Schaefer

He says comptroller, Ehrlich are too close


Montgomery County Del. Peter Franchot launched a campaign for state comptroller yesterday, saying voters should oust incumbent William Donald Schaefer because the former governor and Baltimore mayor has aligned himself too closely with Republicans.

"It is now November. Halloween has come and gone. The time for masks is over. William Donald Schaefer is a Republican," Franchot said during an announcement speech in Fells Point attended by a handful of supporters. "I am running as the real Democrat in this race."

A 19-year member of the General Assembly, Franchot, 57, said he hopes to raise $1 million for a primary challenge to Schaefer, who he said has helped steer the state on an unacceptable course by frequently siding with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to form a majority on the three-member state Board of Public Works.

The board, comprising the comptroller, the governor and the treasurer - who is appointed by the Assembly - authorizes most state spending, buys preservation land and approves contracts.

"For the past three years, Governor Ehrlich and Comptroller Schaefer have taken us in the wrong direction, down the wrong path," Franchot said. "Now our state is at a crossroads, and we have a decision to make: Do we take the high road, the Democratic road, the road of peace, prosperity and personal freedom? Or do we take the low road, the Republican road, the road of intolerance, inequity and injustice?"

Schaefer, 84, is perhaps the best-known politician in the state. After serving as mayor of Baltimore and two terms as governor, he abandoned a short-lived legal career to succeed longtime Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein after Goldstein's death in 1998.

Michael Golden, a spokesman for Schaefer, said yesterday that the comptroller is far more in touch with the needs and desires of most Marylanders than Franchot is.

"The last I checked, the comptroller was listed as a Democrat. This old bromide is really tired stuff," Golden said. "It seems to me that Schaefer's message is going to resonate with true Maryland Democrats. Peter Franchot represents the fringe of the Democratic Party that expects you to act as an apparatchik. And if that's what a true Democrat is, Franchot is your man."

In addition to overseeing tax collection, Schaefer has used the bimonthly Board of Public Works meetings as a platform to speak his mind. Recent topics have ranged from the dearth of English speakers working at fast-food restaurants to the need for a state registry for HIV patients to his disdain for the state's minority business programs.

An October 2004 survey for The Sun revealed mixed feelings about Schaefer. Seven of 10 likely voters said they agreed with the statement, "He is a straight shooter who speaks his mind," but six of 10 voters said they concurred with the view, "He was a good public official, but his day has passed."

Franchot faces a difficult climb but is hitting themes that could resonate with large numbers of voters, said Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster.

"He's not the percentage bet," Smith said. "Schaefer has achieved semi-iconic status for reasons of his service and experience. But Franchot has definitely identified significant vulnerabilities.

"Schaefer has been very cozy with the governor," he said. "The task for the delegate is to convince a majority that that is a liability that is fatal in the comptroller's office."

Ehrlich has worked hard to cultivate a close relationship with Schaefer, something his predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, never had. Ehrlich has said he would try to make sure no Republican candidate ran against Schaefer.

Schaefer withstood a similar challenge in 2002, when John T. Willis, the former secretary of state and a Glendening ally, ran in a Democratic primary. Willis gained 28 percent of the primary vote, compared with 68 percent for Schaefer.

"I am surprised that Mr. Franchot hasn't learned anything from the past," Golden said.

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