A cast of unlikely political allies strode into Lexington Market to defend William Donald Schaefer yesterday, decrying Gov. Parris N. Glendening's tactics against the comptroller and jokingly comparing his adversaries to the slimy creatures in the fishmongers' cases.
During a noontime campaign swing through Baltimore, some Democrats put aside their differences to embrace Schaefer and scold Glendening for recent attacks - the latest of which is a new radio ad labeling Schaefer as "missing in action" on environmental issues.
"This looks like one of our opponents," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said as he and Schaefer looked in the eyes of a slippery foot-long catfish on display. The mayor didn't mention Glendening or Schaefer's opponent in the race for comptroller, Secretary of State John T. Willis, but Schaefer snickered in agreement.
In recent days, the governor's attacks have intensified, with the governor contending that Schaefer is insensitive to women and minorities, and an enemy of the environment. But Schaefer found himself with many supporters yesterday - including an unusual mix of Baltimore Democrats.
O'Malley walked alongside State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, with whom he frequently argues over the city's crime problems. State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV and Del. Howard P. Rawlings, two Democrats who have clashed, also stood side by side.
"I think it is a new low in politics, and I am sorry [Glendening] has taken this approach to vent his own personal feelings," said Rawlings, who is one of the most powerful figures in the legislature. "He probably ought to be spending his time raising his new child instead of attacking the comptroller."
Glendening is unapologetic. The governor's latest ad, which began airing in suburban Washington last night, accuses Schaefer of turning his back on the environment when issues were brought before the Board of Public Works. The governor, comptroller and treasurer compose the board, which must approve major state contracts and purchases.
The radio spot makes reference to the 21 times this year that Schaefer either voted 'no' or abstained when the Glendening administration sought to buy land to protect it from development. The purchases, part of Glendening's Smart Growth initiatives, were approved by the board in most instances despite Schaefer's opposition.
"When the Chesapeake Bay and the environment needed him most - William Donald Schaefer was missing in action," says the ad.
Later the ad says, "If Don Schaefer won't bother to vote for Smart Growth or to save the bay, why should Maryland Democrats bother to vote for him?"
Schaefer was unavailable for comment on the ad last night. In the past, Schaefer has said he supports protecting land but only when the state can afford it. The former governor and Baltimore mayor has blamed Glendening's land purchases in part for next year's projected $1 billion deficit.
"I am not a yes man for the governor," Schaefer said yesterday at Lexington Market, before he knew about Glendening's latest ad. "He has spent money he doesn't have."
Last night, the Schaefer campaign released a six-page list of Schaefer's environmental accomplishments as governor during the 1980s and early 1990s. Campaign officials noted that Schaefer entered the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, a pact with surrounding states that set goals to clean up the bay. Schaefer also started the state's recycling program, they said.
Glendening "is not looking at his record," said Robert Perciasepe, who was secretary of the environment in Schaefer's Cabinet. "He is looking at a couple of isolated incidents."
Willis, who is Glendening's close friend and adviser, said the governor did not consult him about the ads. But Schaefer's environmental record is a big part of Willis' campaign.
"He views land as a commodity," said Willis, who spent part of yesterday campaigning in Prince George's County. "It is more than a commodity - it needs to be protected from development, nurtured and used respectfully."
Glendening is using leftover campaign funds to pay for the ads. The governor's office would not say how much Glendening is spending on the latest ad, noting that the cost would be released today. The governor might also announce additional plans to help Willis.
On Monday, some radio stations began running an ad financed by the governor - who has sparred with Schaefer for years - that accuses Schaefer of belittling women and minorities. The ad tells voters that Schaefer has called women "little girls" and African-Americans "Afros." The governor also is paying for calls to 60,000 voters on Willis' behalf.
Several prominent Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, have said that Glendening's first ad was unfair. Other Democrats have accused the governor of race-baiting.
Willis continued to pick up support yesterday. The Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police, a union representing 16,000 law enforcement officers, announced it is endorsing him. His campaign also released a letter of support from Robert L. Swann, who was deputy comptroller under Louis L. Goldstein and was appointed acting comptroller after Goldstein's death.
Several environmental and labor organizations will work this weekend on Willis' behalf. The Sierra Club will ask its 15,000 Maryland members to vote for Willis.
Officials at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who have accused Schaefer of mistreating state and local officials who appeared before the Board of Public Works, are calling AFSCME's 30,000 members on behalf of Willis.
"I have not found anyone reluctant to vote for John Willis," said Sue Esty, AFSCME's legislative director.
Morton C. Pollack, an old-time Northwest Baltimore political boss who has homes here and in Florida, said Glendening has motivated him.
"I was going to go back to Florida and work for [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Janet Reno, but I now I am going to stay here and work like hell for Schaefer," Pollack said. "I am back and energized."
Schaefer said is he not worried about the efforts to defeat him. The comptroller said Glendening's attacks have backfired by rallying his base in the Baltimore region.
But, Schaefer said, he's surprised by Willis' - and Glendening's - aggressive challenge.
"This was suppose to be an off-year, a free ride," Schaefer said.