Schaefer accuses rival of ageism

Owens denies charge

Franchot urges focus on issues, not insults

Maryland Votes 2006

September 09, 2006|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,sun reporter

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who has already said that 62-year-old primary opponent Janet S. Owens is "getting fat," accused her yesterday of age discrimination.

An Owens representative said Schaefer was twisting the meaning of a single statement made months ago.

And the third candidate in the race, Del. Peter Franchot of Montgomery County, held a "Stop the Insults" news conference yesterday, asking that the focus in the race return to issues before Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Schaefer made his latest charge in a letter to Owens released during an afternoon news conference in Fells Point, where a small group of senior citizens defended the 84-year-old comptroller after comments he made this week. Schaefer generated the latest in a string of brouhahas by saying that the Anne Arundel county executive has an "old-fashioned hairdo" and "her husband rules her."

The comptroller did not appear at the campaign event, the first since Wednesday's rally at Baltimore's Lexington Market, where he made the unscripted and disparaging remarks. He was in his city office yesterday, campaign manager Laslo Boyd said.

The letter was read instead by Baltimore County lawyer Bob Romadka, 75, a friend of 50 years. "Your comments have been disrespectful to all senior citizens in this great state. You have run a negative campaign of innuendo and discrimination for the last several months," Romadka read from the letter. "While some failed to note it, and I tried to ignore it, I could not do it any longer."

Schaefer in his message seized on two elements of the county executive's campaign. "Your campaign theme `it's time' is a thinly-veiled attack on older people," he wrote.

Owens' spokesman, Sushant Sidh, said Schaefer was misconstruing the meaning of that slogan. "It means different things to different people," he said. "Some people could say it's time for a woman, it's time for Ms. Owens, it's time for change, but it's not about age," he said.

"Janet Owens is the only candidate who has run a completely positive campaign for comptroller," Sidh said. "She's campaigning on her record of accomplishment in Anne Arundel County. ... She has not made age an issue in this race."

The comptroller also complained about a comment that Owens made in a May radio interview, in which she likened the conversation she had in telling Schaefer she would run against him to telling your grandfather it was time to give up the car keys.

"I find this incredible from someone who knows that age discrimination is illegal," the letter states. "Do you want people to judge you by your looks, and arbitrary age, or your abilities? My point now and when I described your older-looking appearance is that we should be judged on our abilities, not on our age or how young we look."

Boyd said that Schaefer has been angry that Owens entered the race after saying she would not. "He didn't express why he was angry, and this letter is an attempt to do that," he said.

Schaefer is a fixture of Maryland politics. The former city councilman, Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor has not lost an election in 50 years. But polls suggest that this race is close.

A poll conduced for The Sun in early July asked detailed questions of likely primary voters who said they were not supporting Schaefer or were undecided. According to the survey, 21 percent of those who were not backing Schaefer said they thought he was "too old." Voters older than 65 were more likely to feel that Schaefer's age was a problem.

Schaefer has made headlines in recent years because of remarks that have drawn heavy criticism. He once called for a registry of AIDS patients, calling them a "danger" who "bring it on themselves." Prompted by a visit to McDonald's, he issued a tirade about immigrants, saying they should learn to speak English.

This year he was roundly condemned for making suggestive comments to a female aide to the governor who had just given him a mug of tea and walked away, commanding her to return and "walk again" as he watched.

That episode drew national media attention, as did this week's remarks about Owens' weight.

On Thursday, MSNBC broadcaster Keith Olbermann named Schaefer as second-runner-up for his show's daily "worst person in the world" segment.

Franchot said yesterday that he decided to enter the race because "we need someone as comptroller who is at the top of his game."

"This is clearly the No. 1 race in the state," Franchot said of the comptroller's contest. "And it's a referendum on William Donald Schaefer. He is not up to the job of being comptroller. Quite frankly, my other opponent, Janet Owens, is not either."

In Fells Point, where the senior citizens for Schaefer gathered, a handful of speakers expressed their admiration for a man credited with some of Baltimore's most significant developments, including the Inner Harbor.

"I've known Mr. Schaefer for a long time," Romadka said. "That gentleman doesn't have a mean bone in his body. I don't think he would say something like that if he didn't have a reason. Don Schaefer is a very capable person to be your comptroller for the next four years."

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