Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs turned up the volume today on his demand for a series of debates with his Democratic gubernatorial rival by offering a total of $5,000 to organizations that can successfully sponsor debates between him and Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
At a well-orchestrated news conference here that featured an oversize facsimile of a $1,000 check, Sachs announced that a wealthy Montgomery County supporter had agreed to give $1,000 to the first group that can organize a debate in each of the five months preceding the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.
Sachs, who had previously accused Schaefer of ducking more than 20 chances to appear with him on a podium, cheerfully conceded that today's gambit was "an effort to highlight this very important issue" two days after the mayor formally announced his candidacy.
Although Schaefer has not ruled out a debate with Sachs, he has repeatedly questioned the usefulness of such joint appearances, maintaining that debates are staged largely for the benefit of the media and that they would do little to educate voters who are already well aware of his public record.
Sachs accused Schaefer today of adopting an "imperious posture in which he presents himself as already having been elected, in which he presents himself as someone on his way to a coronation, in which he disdains public opinion." The mayor, added Sachs, is "basically saying . . . 'I'm better than the candidates for every other office in Maryland.' "
Sachs was joined at his news conference by Aris Mardirossian, an Armenian immigrant and Montgomery County businessman who put up the $5,000 for what Sachs called "finders' fees."
"Every citizen of the state of Maryland has a right to know the differences on the issues between Steve Sachs and Don Schaefer," said Mardirossian. "I'd love to get something together to hear what Mayor Schaefer stands for. That's why I'm offering this."
Schaefer, who could not be reached by The Washington Post, told WBAL radio that the offer from Sachs and Mardirossian was a "cheap political trick" and suggested that if Mardirossian was really interested in contributing to charity he should donate the $5,000 with no strings attached.
Mark Wasserman, Schaefer's campaign manager, called the Sachs announcement "shabby political stunt making."
Sachs, feigning surprise at Schaefer's reaction, contended he was only "borrowing a page from the mayor's book -- this is privatization. The mayor's made his reputation by finding funds in the private sector and I would think he'd be very admiring of this."
According to ground rules set up by the Sachs campaign, an organization can claim the prize only if it is located in Maryland, delivers a written acceptance from Schaefer to Sachs headquarters and successfully holds a debate of at least an hour to which the press is invited and which involves candidates responding to each other. News organizations are not eligible.