After 15 years as the strong-man mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer won the Maryland governorship by a landslide -- only to clash repeatedly with the General Assembly and local politicians over his confrontational style.

But what, says Schaefer, has caused his biggest political headache? A local judgeship in Southern Maryland.

"I'd never had such pressure put on me like this," a weary Schaefer said yesterday as he disclosed his choice to fill a Circuit Court vacancy in Calvert County.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell (D-Kent) and Maryland State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein lined up on opposite sides behind the two leading contenders to succeed retiring Circuit Judge Perry G. Bowen Jr. -- Mitchell for Del. Thomas A. Rymer (D) and Goldstein for District Judge Larry D. Lamson.

Thus a purely parochial contest was elevated into an affair of state with implications for the normal operations of government in Annapolis.

Yesterday, chaffing at what he termed unprecedented pressure, Schaefer announced that his choice was Rymer, thereby boosting the governor's stock with a key leader of the General Assembly. But even as he did so, Schaefer said, he worried about alienating Goldstein, a Maryland institution with whom he must work on the three-member Board of Public Works, which approves millions of dollars in state contracts each year.

"Feelings will be hurt . . . . You can't smooth things over like this," Schaefer said in an interview at a groundbreaking ceremony for the billion-dollar PortAmerica project in Prince George's County. "It just doesn't happen . . . .

"I don't like to be pressured. It should be something where I review all candidates." But because of the pressure, Schaefer said, "I can't win."

Asked who was doing the pressuring, Schaefer smiled and said, "Not a soul." He said he had tried to notify the principals Monday night. "Nobody's home. Everybody's out," he lamented. "I don't have time to be able to breathe."

Schaefer found little breathing room with the strong personal and political crosscurrents that were in play.

Goldstein's candidate, Lamson, 39, had owned land with the comptroller in the growing Solomon's Island area. Rymer, 62, represented opponents of a rezoning request on land Goldstein owned in Prince Frederick, the seat of the still-rural but changing county. The rezoning was ultimately granted for what became a McDonald's restaurant.

Rymer and Goldstein also clashed over a bridge across the Chesapeake Bay with its western end in lower Calvert County, where Goldstein owns land. Goldstein pushed for a state feasibility study. Rymer opposed the whole idea.

Seven candidates had lined up for the seat held for 23 years by Bowen, who cultivated the image of the tough country judge and "the law south of Lyon's Creek," the county's border with neighboring Anne Arundel. From the initial list, four names were sent by a judicial nominating commission to Schaefer.

Schaefer said he interviewed three of the four: Rymer, Lamson and John A. Buchanan, a Calvert resident who practices law primarily in the Prince George's County. Schaefer said yesterday all were qualified.

He chose Rymer, he said, in part because, "he had very, very good recommendations." Aside from House Speaker Mitchell, Rymer's supporters included Lucille Maurer, a former Montgomery County delegate and the state treasurer who is the third member of the Board of Public Works.

Rymer, in his fifth term in the House, is credited with adept handling of difficult issues as chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee during the most recent session of the General Assembly. Among other things, Rymer pushed through car-emission legislation opposed by Schaefer and Mitchell but since supported by a governor's task force.

Rymer recently rejected a compromise put forward by Goldstein to accept the $66,500-a-year District Court slot to be vacated by Lamson as the younger man moved up to the $74,000-a-year Circuit Court judgeship.

Mitchell did not return a reporter's calls yesterday. Goldstein and his wife Hazel were cruising the Caribbean and could not be reached for comment.

But state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said Goldstein "believes outsiders are interfering in an internal Calvert County matter," a reference to those who supported Rymer.

Lamson said yesterday he and Goldstein "had some {business} dealings but {we} are not real close friends. I haven't spoken to him for more than two hours in five years."

Said Miller, who took no public position on the judgeship: "In fairness to the governor, he could give the baby to one or the other or cut the baby in half. He made a choice. It's the job of leaders to lead. It's a no-win situation."