Democrats beset by dissension


Maryland's Democratic Party, already struggling to weather a severe money crunch, now finds itself embroiled in a bitter war of words between its current and former leaders.

The latest shot was fired by ex-chairman Nathan Landow, who in a letter to members of the state Democratic Central Committee has called for the ouster of his successor, Vera P. Hall.

"It is up to you and your fellow central committee members to get involved and take the initiative to immediately elect new leadership for the party," Mr. Landow said in a letter dated Nov. 15. "In the private sector incompetence and mismanagement are rejected and it also should be rejected by our state party."

Mr. Landow called Ms. Hall a "desperate woman" attempting to use him as "a scapegoat" for her alleged managerial and fund-raising shortcomings. She has taken a state party that was a "role model for the nation" into dire financial straits, he said.

The increasingly acrimonious dispute was set off nearly two weeks ago when Ms. Hall, in appealing for funds from fellow Democrats, faulted Mr. Landow for the party's financial difficulties.

Yesterday, in response to Mr. Landow's letter, Ms. Hall, a Baltimore city councilwoman who has chaired the party since August 1992, dismissed his charges as "negativism and name-calling" that have had little impact on Democrats around the state.

"The executive committee [of the party] knows how I stand, where I live, and it's welcome to do what it thinks best in terms of leadership," Ms. Hall said.

Harsh words aside, the financially strapped state party, threatened earlier this month with having to shut down its headquarters by Thanksgiving, apparently has come up with the money to keep the doors open, at least through December.

"We're out of the woods for Thanksgiving," said J. Brian O'Day, the party's executive director.

"There'll be a Christmas, too," said Thomas T. Koch, the party treasurer. "We're pretty well funded through the end of the year."

Funds have materialized from a number of sources, said Mr. O'Day and Mr. Koch. In addition, Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- whom some Democrats wanted to drum out of the party last year after he endorsed Republican George Bush -- has agreed to help raise money.

The Hall-Landow dispute was triggered by a Nov. 3 letter in which Ms. Hall alerted prominent Maryland Democrats to a cash-flow crisis that she said had the potential to bring the party's organizational machinery grinding to a halt.

"The party does not have the money to stay open past Thanksgiving," wrote Ms. Hall. "It is imperative for each and every Democratic member of the General Assembly to contribute as much as possible immediately."

Though unable to cite specific figures, Mr. O'Day said yesterday that the party had gotten a "good response" to Ms. Hall's letter from Democratic legislators and members of the various Democratic central committees around the state.

Contributions in hand and pledged, along with funds from the telemarketing operation "Dollars for Democrats," run by the Democratic National Committee, should total about $10,000, Mr. Day said.

In addition, the DNC has recruited a Clinton administration Cabinet officer -- Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros -- to help the party kick off a new fund-raising gambit, the Democratic Business Council, with annual dues set at $1,000.

In her letter, Ms. Hall made no direct or indirect reference to Mr. Landow, a Bethesda developer. In an interview, however, she blamed him for the party's bleak financial state, saying he left the party with nearly $70,000 in debts when he resigned the chairmanship in July 1992.

Mr. Landow denied that charge at the time and called Ms. Hall's remarks "a shocker, to say the least." In his letter, he says that the party had a balance of more than $70,000 when he resigned. But Mr. O'Day said the party had $11,216 on hand at the time, along with numerous outstanding bills.

Mary Jo Neville, a Democratic Central Committee member from Baltimore County who has never been a fan of Mr. Landow's, said some party regulars are "outraged" that their former chairman would write such a letter. But those who know Mr. Landow well, she said, are not surprised.

Consequently, she said, she did not think the increasingly public dispute would hurt the party.

"I don't think so, because it is like, 'Well, there goes Nate again.' It's not something people take too seriously when it is an accusation that comes from him. It's like, 'Consider the source.' "

"It's needless bickering by two people that each have better things to do with their time," said Gerard E. Evans, chairman of the Prince George's County Democratic Party.

Gregory Pecoraro, who is active in Carroll County's Democratic Central Committee, said he has heard little reaction to the Landow letter but added, "This kind of thing is pretty unseemly. We were hoping that sort of thing was behind us."

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