Gov. William Donald Schaefer has waded into one of Maryland's hottest contests for political survival by siding with Janice Piccinini against Paula C. Hollinger in a 1994 Democratic primary race that has put the two incumbent Democratic senators in the same Northwest Baltimore County district.
The two liberal Democrats, both fierce campaigners, were thrown together by a Schaefer-backed redistricting plan that is still awaiting a final ruling in federal court.
According to his press aide and those who attended Senator Piccinini's $100-a-ticket fund-raiser Wednesday night, the governor not only praised Ms. Piccinini, but also urged the crowd to donate money and vote for her.
"He did endorse her," Page W. Boinest, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, said yesterday. "He feels very strongly about her re-election bid."
It's unusual for a Democratic governor, as nominal head of the party, to take sides in such an internal battle.
But Ms. Boinest said Mr. Schaefer's support is based on his appreciation for Ms. Piccinini's vote for his embattled 1992 budget and tax package and her support of the redistricting plan and various crime bills, including gun control and anti-stalking legislation.
In addition, Ms. Boinest said, Mr. Schaefer has a long-standing friendship with Ms. Piccinini's father, Anthony Piccinini, a developer and Democratic fund-raiser.
Senator Hollinger voted against Mr. Schaefer's budget and fought the redistricting plan and challenged it in court. She is also allied with Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who, like Ms. Hollinger, is from Pikesville and who has been feuding with Mr. Schaefer for two years.
Whether an endorsement by a lame-duck governor whose popularity is less than universal will help or hurt Ms. Piccinini is uncertain.
"He didn't approach it that way," Ms. Boinest said. "He was just telling people how he felt."
Ms. Piccinini refused to speculate on the effect of the endorsement.
"His support is very appreciated," she said, adding that she felt that the endorsement is "truly a compliment to me." But she said, "I'm my own person. He's not the one running for office."
For her part, Ms. Hollinger said she was "delighted" but not surprised by the governor's endorsement of her opponent.
"It's to my benefit that I'm an independent legislator. She [Ms. Piccinini] voted for his tax increase. I didn't," Ms. Hollinger said.
"The governor doesn't seem to like people from Pikesville," she said.
Ms. Piccinini has not always been a Schaefer favorite. After she endorsed former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs for governor in 1986, Mr. Schaefer was so angry with her that he repeatedly mispronounced her family name in public and forced her off the Maryland Stadium Authority.
In 1990, however, they reconciled, and Mr. Schaefer encouraged her to run for the House of Delegates. She ran for Senate instead and, in her first run for elective office, upset a longtime conservative Democratic incumbent, Francis X. Kelly.
In recent weeks, Ms. Hollinger, formerly a member of the House of Delegates, and Ms. Piccinini have been engaging in a hot, door-to-door duel. The main battleground is the fast-growing Owings Mills town center and surrounding areas.
The governor's redistricting plan took away large portions of Ms. Hollinger's political base in Randallstown and Pikesville, pushing her north into the more rural, conservative 11th District, which stretches from Prettyboy Reservoir south to Granite and covers much of the land west of Interstate 83.
Ms. Piccinini maintains she has a natural advantage in the new district since it covers much more of her northern county territory.
But in the past few years, hundreds of of Ms. Hollinger's old Randallstown constituents have moved to the Owings Mills area, giving her a base that Ms. Piccinini is contesting.