Against the backdrop of Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer's fund-raiser, Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs blistered his chief rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last night for his continued associations with "convicted political racketeers."

Notified that former governor Marvin Mandel and Irvin Kovens -- codefendants who went to jail on political corruption charges in the 1970s -- had attended Schaefer's million-dollar fund-raiser, Sachs for the first time made the mayor's friendship with the two men a major issue in the campaign.

A two-term attorney general and former U.S. attorney who built his reputation prosecuting political corruption cases, Sachs had remained relatively circumspect on Kovens' role in raising money for the Schaefer affair. Asked a few weeks ago if he would comment on Kovens' raising funds for the mayor, Sachs told The Baltimore Sun "not yet."

Last night, before a small audience at the Mount Rainier Democratic Club, the moment came.

"The mayor's embracing of these convicted political racketeers is a dangerous omen," Sachs said. Mandel and Kovens, he added, had "bought and sold a governor. They disgraced and shamed a government and never even said they were sorry."

The two men who were convicted of racketeering and mail fraud for activities during Mandel's tenure as governor in the 1970s "don't see government as an opportunity to serve," said Sachs. "They see government as an opportunity to serve themselves. They see the mayor's candidacy as a chance to return and find vindication."

Knowing that Sachs would make an issue of Kovens and Mandel, Schaefer has deliberately chosen to let the subject be aired early in his campaign in the hope that it will eventually go away, his aides said. The mayor himself raised it during a luncheon with Washington Post reporters and editors last month.

But if last night is any indication, Sachs intends to continue hammering the point home.

Speaking of what he called "the two traditions in Maryland politics," Sachs said that Gov. Harry Hughes had freed the state from the "political mental breakdown" it suffered during the era when Mandel and former governor and vice president Spiro Agnew made the state a national symbol of political corruption.

Mandel and Kovens, said Sachs, "see government as a trough at which to feed. Anybody who is not sensitive to that distinction ought to be made to answer for that insensitivity."