Decades of Service May End With Primary

Campaign volunteer Dorothy Boyd helps Peter Franchot celebrate his victory.
Campaign volunteer Dorothy Boyd helps Peter Franchot celebrate his victory. "I'm humbled at the fact that I defeated William Donald Schaefer," he said. (By Matt Houston -- Associated Press)
By Steve Vogel and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 14, 2006

In the end, the very characteristics that made William Donald Schaefer one of the dominant figures in Maryland political history were the same that brought about his downfall in Tuesday's election.

Schaefer conceded defeat yesterday to Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery) in the tight three-way race for the Democratic nomination to be Maryland comptroller. The contest focused on remarks by Schaefer that were typically blunt, eccentric and unfiltered.

With 96 percent of the vote tallied, Franchot had received more than 36 percent, edging out Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, who had close to 34 percent. Schaefer finished third, with 30 percent.

Schaefer's loss may -- or may not -- have brought an end to a career that began in 1955 with the Baltimore City Council, extended through four terms as the city's mayor, continued through two terms as governor and then two as comptroller.

"It's a tough one to lose," Schaefer told reporters yesterday in a conference room at his Annapolis office, his piercing blue eyes looking down at the table. "I'm surprised. I didn't think he was going to win."

During the rollicking news conference, Schaefer was by turns cranky, downcast and upbeat, exhibiting the style and antics that endeared him to voters for years but appeared to wear thin in this campaign.

"You can call bologna sausage, but it's still bologna," he said. "I'm me. If you think I'm ever going to change and keep my mouth shut and be politically correct, I'm not going to do that."

That may have cost him votes. "It was his failure to control his tongue and mouth that beat him," said Matthew A. Crenson, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

Franchot said he benefited from voters who had tired of the insults tossed in the race, culminating last week when Schaefer dubbed Owens "Mother Hubbard."

"People said . . . 'Let's vote on the issues, not on nursery rhymes," said Franchot, who portrayed himself as being above the Schaefer-Owens fray. He claimed victory before a crowd of 40 cheering supporters at the Takoma Park City Hall yesterday afternoon.

Much of the rancor seemed to dissipate yesterday, replaced with reflection about Schaefer's place in Maryland history.

Even Franchot, who leveled harsh words at Schaefer during the campaign, was deferential about his opponent.

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