By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Casting himself as an independent voice who will defend progressive values, Peter Franchot was sworn in yesterday as Maryland's comptroller, replacing William Donald Schaefer, a dominant force in Maryland politics for half a century.
As comptroller, Franchot (D) will oversee the collection of taxes and serve on the three-member Board of Public Works, which controls state contracts. But he made it clear yesterday that he will also use the office in less conventional ways, to oppose slots, promote the biotechnology industry and push environmental initiatives.
"That's who I am," Franchot said after taking the oath of office. "And that's going to be my contribution, to speak out."
The pronouncement drew a mild rebuke from another Annapolis fixture known for speaking out -- Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), a proponent of legalized slots. Franchot, Miller told reporters after the ceremony, would learn that he was elected to serve as a "tax collector, not as a policymaker."
Sworn in by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in the House of Delegates chamber, Franchot was surrounded by family members, supporters and dozens of current and past officials, including newly elected U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and former governors Harry R. Hughes and Parris N. Glendening, both Democrats.
Schaefer, who served his last day Friday, did not attend.
Franchot, a Montgomery County delegate for 20 years, defeated then-Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and Schaefer for their party's nomination in September and easily captured the seat in the general election. Schaefer, who had become known for his blunt and sometimes explosive remarks during public meetings and on the campaign trail, was seeking a third term.
Franchot opened his remarks by saying how uncertain he had been that he would win the primary.
Later in the ceremony, Miller joked that he hadn't had much confidence in Franchot's chances, either.
When Franchot told Miller a year ago that he was going to run for comptroller, he told Franchot that it would "be a cold day in hell before you're sworn in as comptroller," Miller recalled, laughing.
Pausing for a moment, Miller added, "I don't know about hell, but it sure is icy in Annapolis."
Franchot said that as comptroller, "I will be an outspoken advocate for the progressive values for which I have always stood."
From the podium, Miller called Franchot a longtime friend, but he later accused the comptroller of trying to push an agenda and overstepping his bounds.
"My office can comment on anything that affects the fiscal health of the state," he said.
Franchot said he brings a "strong body of beliefs" to his new position and pledged to be a "watchdog" over taxpayer money.
At Board of Public Works meetings, he said, he will ask the "sometimes inconvenient questions. . . . I will never vote to approve sweetheart deals to sell parkland and open space for development, and valuable state assets like the Baltimore World Trade Center," a reference to efforts by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to sell parkland and a state-owned building at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
Sean Dobson, acting director of Progressive Maryland, said his group is looking forward to working with an "activist comptroller who will look out for the people's interests."