Arundel executive ponders a run for state comptroller


Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, who has been hinting at a congressional bid for months and recently bought a new home that makes her a resident of Maryland's 3rd Congressional District, now says she is also considering a run for state comptroller.

Owens, 62, has long stated her interest in the state office - but only if the incumbent, fellow Democrat William Donald Schaefer, decided against running for a third term.

A two-term county executive who cannot seek re-election, Owens has concentrated for months on pursuing a congressional seat that will be vacated by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate.

Owens bought a house in Cardin's district in February and traveled to Israel in March - a trip that many observers viewed as an effort to build credibility in Maryland's Jewish community, an important constituency in the district.

But in a recent interview, she mentioned Schaefer's low poll numbers while indicating renewed interest in his job.

"I have always believed it is the right job for me," Owens said last week. She said the post of comptroller "is not necessarily a partisan one. I don't think it should be."

She said last week that she would make a decision after unveiling her final county budget Monday, but declined yesterday to talk about her future. "I don't have anything new," Owens said.

Michael Golden, a spokesman for the comptroller's office, said Schaefer is preparing to run again, even though he has not formally declared his candidacy.

"The comptroller is making plans for a third term," Golden said. "Every discussion he has with people is about his campaign, that he has a fight on his hands. He hasn't officially announced, but he tells everybody he is running, including staff."

Asked if Owens has spoken with Schaefer, a former governor and Baltimore mayor, about her interest, Golden said: "Not that I'm aware of."

Comptroller is one of a handful of elected statewide positions and is important because the comptroller is one of three members of the Board of Public Works - along with the governor and state treasurer, who is appointed by the General Assembly. The board approves most state spending.

Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, is waging a primary challenge against Schaefer. Franchot argues that he is the only real Democrat in the race, because Schaefer sides frequently with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

In the aftermath of recent statements by Schaefer, including when he told a young woman at a public meeting to "walk again" so he could look at her backside, polls show that Franchot might be gaining traction.

Schaefer, 84, led Franchot by 40 percent to 33 percent in a Democratic primary, a mid-April survey by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies showed The poll had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

"I'm not going to address hypotheticals," said Franchot of a potential Owens candidacy. "By every measurement available, my campaign is doing great - endorsements, poll numbers, fund-raising and momentum. I'm running against one person, William Donald Schaefer."

Donald F. Norris, a professor of public policy at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Owens would be a credible candidate whether she ran for Congress or comptroller, given her experience presiding over one of Maryland's largest counties.

Norris said Owens' inclusion in the comptroller's race would "increase the probability that Schaefer will win the nomination."

"It splits the votes of the anti-Schaefer Democrats," he said.

Despite Schaefer's sluggish poll numbers, Norris said he "can't image a scenario in which Don Schaefer would not run. ... He's still way ahead in the polls."

Owens also briefly considered a run for Senate, but ruled that out last fall. As she has pondered a congressional run, beginning to seek federal money in January, at least seven other Democrats have entered the race - including one of her former top political advisers, Kevin O'Keeffe.

The 3rd District includes portions of Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, with more residents in Arundel than in any other jurisdiction.

No matter which way she goes, Owens is running out of time, even with her advantages of name recognition and fundraising ability, Norris said.

"It's awfully late," he said. "Other people have been running for quite a while. Primary season is four months away. She will have to work very, very hard."

Sun reporter David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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