Owens will run for comptroller

Arundel executive drops congressional plans, will challenge incumbent Schaefer

Maryland Votes 2006

May 05, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN AND ANDREW A. GREEN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN AND ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTERS

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday that she has scrapped plans for a congressional bid and will run for state comptroller, fresh evidence that political legend William Donald Schaefer could at long last be vulnerable.

Schaefer, the 84-year-old incumbent, has a decades-old unbeaten streak at the polls, but the entry of the two-term executive in the Democratic primary is a signal that his alliance with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and penchant for making impolitic remarks are spelling trouble for him.

Owens, 62, said she will make her ability to work with Democrats and Republicans alike a cornerstone of her campaign. She said she senses a movement to throw out incumbents, sparked by rising gasoline prices and the handling of the state's electricity deregulation.

"I have proven that I can work with people of any party [and] can be a consensus-builder," said Owens, who became Anne Arundel's first female executive in 1998.

"On the Board of Public Works, that would be a strength," she said, referring to the three-member panel that approves most state spending, and which Schaefer - former Baltimore mayor and two-term governor - uses as a platform for soliloquies that have sometimes offended groups ranging from immigrants to AIDS activists.

Owens joins Del. Peter Franchot of Montgomery County in the primary race against Schaefer. Some observers say they think Owens' entry will help Schaefer because it will split the voters who oppose him, but others think the conservative-leaning county executive from the Baltimore area will eat into Schaefer's base and help Franchot, a liberal Democrat from the Washington suburbs.

Two recent public polls showed Franchot down just 7 points to Schaefer, despite the incumbent's near-total name recognition in the state.

Through a spokesman, Schaefer declined a request for an interview. Spokesman Michael Golden said that Schaefer met with Owens on Wednesday night, when the county executive revealed her plans. Schaefer "graciously offered her his best wishes" but remains determined to run again, Golden said.

Golden said that Owens, unlike Franchot, has many accomplishments in the public arena, but nowhere near as many as Schaefer.

"He's got a track record as comptroller," Golden said. "He's been very successful in that position, and there's no reason to turn him out."

No change in claim

Franchot, 58, said yesterday that Owens' decision to run doesn't change his claim to be "the only Democrat running for comptroller."

"She shares the same values and the same region as Schaefer," Franchot said. "She represents the Ehrlich wing of the Democratic Party."

Owens insisted yesterday that she is running for the position of comptroller, not against Schaefer, whom she has called a mentor and previously promised not to challenge.

But some Schaefer loyalists have already taken offense at her decision.

Former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., whose name has circulated as a possible candidate if Schaefer were to drop out, said he was "very disappointed" that Owens was not recognizing "the importance of loyalty, especially to a person who has dedicated his life to public service and has accomplished so much good public policy."

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who has long been close to Owens and Schaefer, said Owens' entry in the race will tug at many people's loyalties, but he predicted that ultimately Schaefer would win out.

"I think Janet getting in might help William Donald Schaefer," said Ruppersberger, who said he would back Schaefer. "He has a lot of people that really support him and will never leave him. Those people that are concerned about some of Schaefer's missteps and will not vote for him anymore will probably split between Janet Owens and Peter Franchot."

The comptroller is one of a handful of elected statewide offices and is one of three members of the Board of Public Works - along with the governor and state treasurer.

Ehrlich has worked to stay on Schaefer's good side. The comptroller provides an important second vote for the governor on the board, but his political support is crucial - the same blue-collar, conservative Democrats who have voted for Schaefer for years make up a big part of Ehrlich's electoral base.

The link is so important that Ehrlich publicly pledged to do his best to keep any Republicans from running against the comptroller. An Ehrlich spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Owens' entry in the race changes his plans.

Two Republicans have announced their candidacies: Stephen Abrams, former Montgomery County Republican Party chairman, and Anne M. McCarthy, dean of the University of Baltimore Business School.

Abrams said he wasn't willing to take the chance that a left-leaning comptroller candidate would emerge from the Democratic primary.

Republicans' view

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