New Comptroller Withdraws in Md.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 10, 1998; Page A01
Gov. Parris N. Glendening's choice for Maryland comptroller withdrew yesterday only three days after accepting the appointment, bowing to a surge of political support for the surprise candidacy of former governor William Donald Schaefer.
At a hastily called State House news conference, Glendening (D) announced that Michael D. Barnes, a former congressman from Montgomery County, would decline an appointment as the interim successor to late comptroller Louis L. Goldstein. Barnes also dropped out of the campaign to fill the job permanently, and Glendening said Schaefer now would run as part of his team working for reelection this fall.
"We're running together," Glendening declared.
The announcement represented a turnabout for the governor, who just Monday appointed Barnes and rejected Schaefer's request to be named comptroller. It also marked a quick effort by Glendening and his allies to make the best of what was rapidly turning into a potentially embarrassing free-for-all that could threaten Democratic unity for the fall elections. Schaefer supporters already are planning a big rally for the former governor Monday morning.
Perhaps most of all, the episode highlighted the enduring political influence of Schaefer, who had previously endorsed Glendening for reelection but dropped hints that his support soon might be withdrawn. Among the many business and political leaders egging on Schaefer were key financial supporters of Glendening's Democratic primary rival, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.
With Barnes stepping aside and Glendening naming Goldstein's nonpolitical deputy, Robert Swann, as interim comptroller, Schaefer declared himself satisfied and said he is enthusiastically backing Glendening's reelection efforts.
"I've endorsed the governor," said Schaefer, standing by Glendening's side. "I don't intend to change it."
For his part, Barnes made clear he dropped out of the comptroller's race in the name of party unity. Tension filled the Governor's Reception Room at the beginning of yesterday's news conference as Glendening, Barnes and Schaefer entered with grim faces. But when Barnes stepped on to the podium, he cracked the mood by asking the crowd, "So, what kind of week have you all had?"
Barnes, who practices law with a prominent D.C. firm, said he received many calls of support from his backers, especially those in Montgomery County. Still, he said: "We would have had a very divisive campaign, a regionally divisive campaign. It would have been bad for our party. It would have been bad for our state."
Also, Barnes said, he personally admires Schaefer and didn't relish campaigning against him. "There's no way I was going to get into a campaign to challenge a man for whom I have such great respect," he said.
Schaefer, the former Baltimore mayor who served as governor from 1987 to 1995, thanked Barnes and said he did not wish to be the interim comptroller -- in order, he said, to allow a time of transition after the death last Friday of Goldstein, who held the job for nearly 10 terms. But come January, he said, "I want this job. I want to be comptroller." And he said he could work well with Glendening.
"You're going to have one governor, not two," he said. "You're going to have one comptroller. I recognize that."
The comptroller is the state's chief tax collector and helps determine revenue estimates for state budgeting and also serves on the three-member Board of Public Works with the governor and state treasurer. That board is among the most important in Maryland government, overseeing most state contracts and purchases.
For all the displays of bonhomie yesterday, the quick political marriage carries risks for Glendening, some party leaders said. Some Democrats worried that Schaefer's reputation as a supporter of aggressive government efforts to respond to social and economic ills could harm Democratic efforts to appear fiscally responsible.
Other Democrats worried that removing a candidate from Montgomery -- a critical battleground in this year's election -- could hurt them, noting that Glendening is from Prince George's County, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is from Baltimore County, and Schaefer is from Baltimore. They viewed Schaefer's insistence to stay in the race -- he said this week that he had been bored since leaving public office four years ago -- as selfish and creating an embarrassing political problem for Glendening that could have been avoided.
"Here we are. We are the major jurisdiction in the state, the biggest economic engine in Maryland, and we have no statewide officeholders," said Montgomery County Council President Isiah Leggett (D-At Large), who was disappointed that Barnes was replaced.
Meanwhile, Republicans eagerly pounced on the discord apparent in the Democrat Party.
"It's a party in disarray," said state Republican Chairman Joyce Lyons Terhes. "Glendening does not look like a strong candidate nor a governor who knows what he's doing."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey did not waste time attacking both Glendening and Schaefer after yesterday's announcement. She said that there now would be "two liberal big-spenders" on the Board of Public Works and that Schaefer may try to use the board to siphon money from the Washington suburbs for Baltimore, a perennial complaint of many Montgomery voters.
"I think a lot of Montgomery County people are going to be very nervous about this and where their tax dollars are going to go," she said.
But Democrats defended Glendening and praised Barnes for his decision. "What we have seen today is very good leadership on the part of Governor Glendening and an absolute great step forward in adding [former] governor Schaefer to the statewide ticket," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany).
While there are still 10 other lesser-known Democrats in the comptroller's race, state party Chairman Peter Krauser predicted that Democrats would unite behind Schaefer and that the former governor, 76, would instill excitement in this year's races.
"It's great to have him back in public life, reinvigorated and ready to serve the people in this state," Krauser said. "The old lion has awakened, and his roar is music to the ears of Democrats in Maryland."
Barnes tried to make light of the whole situation. "We don't do things halfway in Maryland," he said. "We either have comptrollers for 40 years or for three days."
Staff writer Manuel Perez-Rivas contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company