Owens announces candidacy

Arundel executive joins Schaefer and Franchot in primary

Maryland Votes 2006

May 10, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens formally announced her candidacy for state comptroller yesterday, promoting her credentials as a "fiscal conservative" who would look out for Maryland's interests, "not the interests of any single political party or any single politician's agenda."

While not mentioning incumbent William Donald Schaefer by name, Owens tried to offer herself as an alternative to the two-term comptroller by emphasizing her own two-term record of improving education, preserving farmland, protecting the environment and attracting jobs. She also promised to bring a more hospitable tone to the state office.

Like Schaefer, Owens is a Democrat. She had said previously she would not mount an intraparty challenge to the 84-year-old former Baltimore mayor and governor.

"I have nothing but the greatest respect and affection for the incumbent, but it is time for a change," Owens, 62, said yesterday before a group of more than 30 supporters at Baldwin Hall in Millersville, the same place she announced her candidacy for executive in 1998.

"We do not raise the bar of excellence in public service by bickering and posturing," said Owens, in a veiled reference to Schaefer's behavior as a member of the state Board of Public Works. "We do it by listening, by building bridges, and by taking decisive action that is in the interest of all the citizens."

Owens decided last week to forgo a run for Congress and seek the comptroller's seat after two recent polls showed Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, trailing Schaefer by 7 percentage points in a primary match-up. Franchot has been in the comptroller's race since November.

The three-member public works board, which also includes the governor and state treasurer, approves most state spending. Schaefer's soliloquies at the twice-monthly meetings have offended groups ranging from immigrants to AIDS activists. This year, he told a young woman at a public meeting to "walk again" so he could look at her backside, an incident that drew national attention.

The comptroller has provided an important second vote for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who has worked hard to stay on Schaefer's good side.

Franchot has offered himself as "the only real Democrat," pointing to Schaefer's penchant for siding with Ehrlich on key decisions. Franchot has said that Owens' conservative roots are similar to Schaefer's.

Owens dismissed the comparison, saying she has been a true Democrat all her adult life. She discounted speculation that her entry in the race will split the anti-Schaefer vote and help the incumbent win a third term.

After her speech, Owens addressed criticism from some Democrats who say she should not challenge Schaefer, who has not lost an election for decades.

"I don't believe in coronations," she said. "These [statewide] positions are too important."

A spokesman for Schaefer, Michael Golden, said Owens' priorities and her desire to act in the public interest closely reflect Schaefer's record.

"I think she's describing William Donald Schaefer, which begs the question: Why is she running as William Donald Schaefer?" Golden said.

Owens' campaign advisers said she will seek to raise between $1 million and $1.5 million for her statewide run.

Seeking the Republican nomination are Stephen N. Abrams, a member of the Montgomery County school board, and Anne M. McCarthy of Baltimore, dean of the Robert G. Merrick School of Business, University of Baltimore.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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