In the latest twist of this week's political drama, former Rep. Michael D. Barnes suddenly withdrew yesterday as Gov. Parris N. Glendening's hand-picked choice for state comptroller -- and both men threw their support to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"The primary focus right now is for us to pull together and make sure we have a strong, winning team in November," Glendening said at a hastily convened State House news conference.
Others said Glendening was attempting to cut embarrassing political losses, making the best of a situation in which Schaefer was fast becoming a consensus Democratic candidate for the post left vacant by the death of Louis L. Goldstein on July 3.
"I want the job," Schaefer said again during the news conference. "I want to be comptroller. I've never filed for a job I didn't want. I think I can do the job."
Schaefer said this week that he would not accept a gubernatorial appointment to the job, preferring to await the will of the voters.
With Barnes out, Glendening said yesterday that he had asked a longtime Goldstein assistant, Robert "Bobby" Swann, 62, to serve until a permanent replacement is elected in November. Swann has been deputy comptroller for the past four years, serving before that as third in command of the department that collects Marylanders' taxes.
Barnes' withdrawal came as leading Democrats from around the state eagerly pledged their support for the 76-year-old former four-term Baltimore mayor and two-term governor.
Schaefer's old personal organization was springing to life, and a rally is to be held Monday morning at the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center on O'Donnell Street, near Route 95 east of downtown Baltimore. Organizers say they are expecting a large turnout.
Among those scheduled to speak are Stephen H. Sachs, the former Maryland attorney general and Schaefer's 1986 Democratic primary opponent.
"I think he's unbeatable," Sachs said yesterday, "and he ought to be. He knows the mechanics of state government better than anyone."
Barnes -- who initially agreed to run, thinking no one of prominence would oppose him -- was gracious in retreat. "I have great personal respect and admiration for Don Schaefer. There was no way I was going to get into a campaign to challenge a man for whom I have so much respect."
Barnes, Glendening and Schaefer stood together yesterday in the governor's reception room, where a portrait of Schaefer and his dog hang on the wall, part of a gallery of former governors. Schaefer flashed a bit of the quirky humor that made him a favorite of voters.
"I like this room. I've been here before," Schaefer said as he took the podium. "I see my portrait up there, and it reminds me of my dog. My dog is now in dog heaven."
Glendening, though he spent considerable time courting and winning Schaefer's endorsement in recent months, seems only now to be coming to understand the former governor's craving for a return to public service -- having bypassed him in picking Barnes last weekend.
"It wasn't clear to me at all that Don was going to run," he said. "It's become clear to me in the last couple of days."
Embarrassingly clear, some have said.
Glendening's move yesterday was designed to avoid a fractious intraparty fight that could easily distract attention from his own re-election race -- and might have left him with the humiliation of ,, seeing his choice lose in the Sept. 15 primary.
Glendening's initial decision to pick Barnes, then his re-election campaign chairman, drew charges that he had allowed his political interests to undermine the independence of the comptroller's post.
Others thought Barnes was not the strongest candidate because he had been out of public life for more than a decade. He ran for U.S. Senate in 1986, losing to Barbara A. Mikulski. Since then he has been a Washington lawyer and lobbyist.
Glendening's political problem deepened when Schaefer reported that the governor had snubbed him in the process of selecting Barnes, which took the governor through as many as a dozen potential choices. But the biggest source of pressure on the governor was the support welling up around Schaefer.
Barnes' decision to withdraw was met with widespread approval yesterday, even as Glendening's characterization of it as a bid for party unity was challenged.
Said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, "It's just obvious he drove Barnes out, it's so clear. It just smells. It's a smelly political deal that the public can see right through."
But Schmoke was being critical of Glendening, not Schaefer, though the two have occasionally been at odds.
"One thing I can say about the man [Schaefer] is that he always did right by the city, even when he was jerking my chain," the mayor said.
Schmoke's unusually caustic appraisal of Glendening's latest move showed why the governor needed to find an end to the comptroller imbroglio: Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry are supporting Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann in the Democratic primary against the governor.
Schmoke said he believes it would be a mistake to minimize the candidacy of Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who also filed for the state job.
Her campaign manager, Julius Henson, said: "At 76, what is this all about with Schaefer? Does he want to serve the people or serve himself and his ego? No inside play will deter us from contesting the election."
But virtually no one else was critical.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. hailed the governor's move, saying: "Wisdom arrived at late is nevertheless wisdom."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, said: "Former Governor Schaefer has got the ability to assemble resources, which are going to be needed by the team, and he still commands a huge following, particularly in the Baltimore metropolitan region. He will add strength to the ticket."
Miller said he would have preferred a candidate from some other part of the state, observing that Maryland's attorney general, both U.S. senators and two congressmen are from the Baltimore area.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said he expects Schaefer to do well in his county, a critical one for Glendening or any state candidate.
"There won't be any bad feelings here. Mike was very gracious." Recalling that Schaefer left office with low approval ratings, Duncan said: "The dynamics and the time are different now."
Schaefer is one of 11 Democrats remaining in the race, though several have said they would withdraw if he stays in. Six candidates have entered the Republican primary.
Pub Date: 7/10/98