Leading Democrats in Montgomery County shunned the day-old write-in candidacy of County Executive Sidney Kramer yesterday as pressure mounted on him to withdraw from the race.
In a show of party unity extending from Gov. William Donald Schaefer to some of Kramer's closest friends and confidants, Democratic leaders rallied behind party nominee Neal Potter, a 20-year County Council member whose upset of Kramer in last month's primary made him an odds-on favorite in the Nov. 6 general election.
Kramer maintained yesterday that his decision to run was motivated by his concern for the county. Critics and friends of the 65-year-old executive suggested that his festering bitterness over his primary loss was the biggest factor.
The well-financed Kramer lost the election to an 11th-hour challenger with little money, few endorsements and a ragtag organization of volunteers. Nonetheless, in the days that followed, Kramer publicly played the role of a good loser. He pledged his support to Potter, included him in public ceremonies, joked about his loss and talked about his plans for life out of the fishbowl.
Privately, however, friends say he was anguished by a sense of failure and was still seething over what he saw as Potter's attacks on his integrity, particularly a campaign brochure that suggested that Kramer placed his business interests ahead of the county's.
Kramer's wife, Betty Mae, who publicly criticized Potter at the Democrats' traditional kiss-and-make-up party two days after the primary, said that Potter's attacks on Kramer during the campaign were one of many factors in her husband's decision to enter the race.
Some associates said Betty Mae Kramer had more difficulty accepting defeat than her husband. She said yesterday that she and her husband discussed his decision and that she supported the write-in effort even though she was tempted by the prospect of returning to private life.
"I had my arm twisted by people saying, 'You can't let the county go down the drain,' " Betty Mae Kramer said.
But she stressed, as did Kramer, that the write-in campaign was started by others, a group of citizens who either didn't vote in the primary or had misgivings about Potter.
Yesterday, a phalanx of party regulars, Democratic officeholders and nominees jammed into Potter's campaign headquarters in Rockville, a show of support that some hoped would persuade Kramer to reverse his decision.
"Our party is rock solid behind Neal Potter . . . . Mr. Kramer's record of public service has earned him the right to exit with style and grace. I hope that those now advising him give him that opportunity," said county Democratic Chairman Michael Gildea.
Schaefer, who had campaigned for Kramer in the primary and considers him a friend, issued a statement of support for Potter and urged Kramer to drop out of the race. "I am sad he is doing this. It is not good for him or the party and I am hoping he will reconsider," Schaefer said.
But Kramer, brusquely rejecting suggestions that he withdraw, said he is in the race because the county's well-being is more important than party loyalty.
"Quite frankly, I don't think Mr. Potter is competent to run the county," said Kramer, expressing similar disdain for Republican candidate Albert Ceccone, a Chevy Chase businessman who has waged a series of losing campaigns for local and federal office.
Apparently, few of Kramer's closest associates were consulted about his decision, and the group backing his candidacy remained something of a mystery.
Fran Abrams, chairman of "Citizens to Write In Sid Kramer," which registered as a fund-raising group with the Board of Elections on Wednesday, would not release a list of the group's members. However, she said there would be a news conference today.
Meanwhile, members of Kramer's informal kitchen cabinet, who worked in both of his county executive campaigns, said they were bypassed and were dismayed by his decision.
Stanton Gildenhorn, former Democratic Party chairman, appeared on television in recent weeks as a spokesman for Kramer to deny reports that Kramer would run as a write-in.
"I am a strong believer in my party and in the primary election process," said Gildenhorn. "I wish the primary results for county executive had been different, but I will support the Democratic nominee."
Gilbert Lessenco, a lawyer and longtime activist, said, "It is hard for us. We really do love Sidney. We know he is a superb county excecutive . . . but he lost." Lanny Davis, the campaign manager for Kramer's failed primary bid, was out of town and could not be reached for a comment.
Kramer's official cabinet of department heads and special advisers appeared torn by the write-in campaign and by a plea to support Kramer.
Several department heads said yesterday that Lewis Roberts, the county's chief administrative officer, announced the write-in campaign at a closed meeting Wednesday and asked cabinet members to rally around their boss. "I personally was stunned, and I think I felt that I needed some time to think this one through," said Maxine Counihan, special aide to Kramer.
Counihan said she plans to stay neutral. Her husband, Del. Gene Counihan (D-Montgomery) said he will support Potter.
For some, the idea of an alternative to Potter, a political maverick for much of his career, and to Ceccone, described by Democrats as a six-time loser, was welcome news.
"I think it is excellent . . . . I support it totally and I will vote for Kramer," said council member Rose Crenca, defeated last month in her reelection bid.
"I don't think Potter's the answer," said Linda Readmon, a resident of North Potomac, where residents are concerned about obtaining better roads and a library. Sarah Schiffbauer, another North Potomac resident, said she telephoned Kramer the day after his primary defeat and asked him to "please, please think about running as a write-in candidate."
In Silver Spring, businessman Joseph Godbout said, "I really think Sid Kramer is the greatest person in the world."
But even Godbout, who said he wants to get involved, admitted that the key is whether the campaign will gain momentum. Some members of the county's business community -- which opposed Potter in the primary and continue to have deep concerns about his stances -- said it was too early and that they were taking a wait-and-see attitude.