Unhappy with the candidates already in the race, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is trolling Maryland's political waters for a prospective successor more to his liking.
Mr. Schaefer said yesterday that he has encouraged three fellow Democrats and one Republican to consider running for governor next year. He said he is hoping one of them will get in.
On the Democratic side, the governor has dangled the bait before two members of Congress -- Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore and Steny H. Hoyer of Prince George's County -- and a state senator, East Baltimore's American Joe Miedusiewski. U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley of Baltimore County is his GOP favorite.
Mr. Schaefer's efforts are a slap at the two best known Democratic hopefuls, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and Prince George's Executive Parris N. Glendening. The two men, once allies of Mr. Schaefer, have in varying ways bucked the governor and gained his scorn.
In an impromptu interview at the dedication ceremony of a new Interstate 83 interchange yesterday afternoon, Mr. Schaefer said he has a duty as the state's chief executive to persuade top-notch candidates to run for public office. He is nearing the end of his second term and cannot succeed himself.
"I am encouraging people that I think are competent, have experience, [are] dedicated, ones that are not so ambitious they won't think about the people of the state," he said.
He praised Mr. Cardin, Mr. Hoyer, Mr. Miedusiewski and Mrs. Bentley, but declined to say anything about the three Democrats and two Republicans who are already campaigning for the state's highest office. "I have no comment on anybody in the race," Mr. Schaefer said.
The three announced Democrats -- Mr. Steinberg, Mr. Glendening and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County -- said they were not intimidated or surprised.
"He's panicking because things are starting to fall in place for my candidacy," Mr. Steinberg said.
"Being singled out for an attack by Governor Schaefer is actually a badge of honor," said Emily Smith, Mr. Glendening's campaign manager.
Ms. Boergers said, "He's looking for someone who will carry on things as they are, and I'm looking for change."
Baltimore City Councilwoman Vera Hall, the state Democratic Party chair, said she had no objection to the governor's attempting to recruit candidates but that she prefers he confine his efforts to other Democrats.
The governor is no stranger to bipartisanship, to the chagrin of many Maryland Democrats. Last fall, days before the November general election, he endorsed then President George Bush over his Democratic rival, Bill Clinton.
Mr. Schaefer's most recent stab at recruitment occurred yesterday morning when Mr. Cardin, of the 3rd District, and Mr. Hoyer, of the 5th, visited him at the governor's mansion.
His pitch: "I just told them they know the legislature, know state government, have been on the federal level, they are well-known, very honorable men, men that are good leaders."
His guests did not commit themselves, the governor reported. "They didn't say anything, just listened," Mr. Schaefer said. Neither Mr. Cardin nor Mr. Hoyer could be reached for comment.
Asked whether he intends to keep his lines out until he lands a candidate who meets his standards, Mr. Schaefer replied, "Yes, I do. When a good candidate is in the race, I expect to do the best I can to help him run and raise money, if I can, and also to help him to win."
Of Mrs. Bentley, Mr. Schaefer said, "She's a Republican, but she's a good lady, a very good lady," making it clear that the 2nd District congresswoman ranks high in his estimation of possible successors.
Mrs. Bentley is considering running for governor, the U.S. Senate or for re-election to her congressional seat in 1994.
Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Steinberg ran together in 1986 and 1990 and shared numerous legislative successes in their early years together. Relations soured in 1991, however, when Mr. Steinberg refused to push the $800 million tax increase Mr. Schaefer's commission on taxes had recommended.
Since then, the lieutenant governor has been stripped of some of his staff and virtually all of his official duties.
Relations between Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Glendening have been frosty since last fall, during the height of Maryland's budget crisis, when Baltimore and the state's 23 counties were asked to absorb $147 million in local aid cuts. When Mr. Schaefer laid out his plan, Mr. Glendening criticized the governor and his fiscal policies.
Retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard, one of the two Republicans in the race, said yesterday that Mr. Schaefer's support could well be a disadvantage to whomever the governor chooses to champion.
Carol A. Arscott, a spokeswoman for the other Republican, Baltimore County Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, said, "I prefer the governor only to meddle within his own party."
THE FIELD SO FAR
* Sen. Mary H. Boergers, Montgomery County
* Parris N. Glendening, Prince George's County executive
* Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg
* Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Baltimore County
* William S. Shepard, retired foreign service officer