It's on the record: Schaefer is running again

At a Board of Public Works meeting, state comptroller brushes aside possible challenges, says `I am' in the race


Comptroller William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that he's definitely running for re-election -- and he's doing it his way.

On a day when reports circulated that the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor might soon get a second challenger in the Democratic primary -- Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens -- Schaefer showed that he would not hold his tongue, no matter who might run against him or whom he might offend.

"If you're running for office, and I am, the right thing is to keep quiet, to play patty-cake," Schaefer said during a tirade against illegal immigration, one of a half-dozen outbursts at the state Board of Public Works meeting. "Nobody dares speak out against something like this ... especially in an election year. I'm mad about this. This isn't right."

The curmudgeonly comptroller has seen his political influence rise along with his cross-party alliance with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But in the past few years, he also has seen his star dimmed by public outrage over some of his antics, most recently ogling a young female aide to the governor after she brought him a mug of tea.

Schaefer's declared opponent in the primary, Del. Peter Franchot of Montgomery County, is campaigning as "the only real Democrat" in the race. A recent public poll put Franchot 7 points down.

Yesterday, news reports circulated that Owens, a better-known figure than Franchot, is considering the race. But many believe the campaign is Schaefer's to lose.

"He's going to get his key vote in the Baltimore metropolitan area," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, one of the Democratic Party's top strategists. "I don't think it hurts his chances."

The bumper-sticker rallying cry of Schaefer supporters over the years has been "He says what you think." The comptroller appeared to be keeping no thoughts to himself yesterday. He began the meeting complaining about the Public Service Commission, which is controlled by Ehrlich appointees. Schaefer said they "didn't do anything" about pending BGE rate increases. "They were asleep," Schaefer said.

Next on the list: illegal immigrants. Schaefer was the subject of public protest from immigration advocates two years ago when, at another board meeting, he fumed about a McDonald's employee whose command of English wasn't up to snuff. Yesterday, Schaefer was mad about the recent nationwide protests for immigrant rights.

"Just allow the borders to be open, have people come in and take our jobs, take all our social services and health care and pay nothing," Schaefer said.

He wasn't finished. He lashed out at a staffer who came to give a report on Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, saying that for decades he had been hearing "the same damn thing."

Before he was done, Schaefer tossed out other barbs about Program Open Space, elections administration and one of his favorite topics, the repaving of Clinton Street in Baltimore.

Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who sat through yesterday's meeting and has known Schaefer for decades, said the comptroller will win. And if he doesn't sugarcoat his opinions, so much the better, she said.

"Thank God he doesn't, because we need that," said the famously sharp-tongued Bentley. "There are too many people in public office who are [politically correct]. ... He's a good guy. I'm going to campaign for him."

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