Comptroller William Donald Schaefer appears ready to take on Gov. Parris N. Glendening whenever and wherever he can.
But Schaefer said yesterday he won't debate his opponent -- Secretary of State John T. Willis -- in the Democratic Party primary.
Why? Well, because of Glendening.
Willis challenged Schaefer yesterday to a debate so voters can hear their views on the environment, slot machines at Maryland racetracks and how the comptroller should act in public.
"This campaign is about contrasts," Willis said yesterday, noting he and Schaefer have been invited to appear on WYPR radio's Marc Steiner Show on Monday. "Democrats deserve a chance to see that contrast."
Schaefer immediately refused, saying he won't debate Willis, 55, because of his ties to Glendening.
"I am too busy trying to repair the damage that Glendening and Willis have done" to the Democratic Party, Schaefer said. "I suggest he go debate the governor, and they can debate each other on how to run a dirty campaign."
Glendening is financing radio ads that attack Schaefer, 80, as a racist and sexist who doesn't care about the environment. Yesterday, Glendening said he is stepping up his efforts to boost Willis, his friend and adviser.
The governor said his campaign committee will spend at least an additional $25,000 -- probably more -- on radio ads and phone calls to 100,000 voters on behalf of Willis. The money is on top of $25,000 Glendening had already earmarked for the effort.
The radio ads will air in suburban Washington and in the Baltimore region. One ad reminds voters that Schaefer has called women "little girls" and African-American's "Afros." The other ad attacks Schaefer for failing to support the governor's environmental agenda.
"I'm just working hard for John Willis," said Glendening, who has been criticized by several prominent Democrats for the ads. "It is important to my basic commitment to the environment and to treating people with respect."
Schaefer said yesterday he is furious about the governor's efforts to defeat him.
The comptroller noted his campaign committee spent $23,000 in 1998 to help Glendening get re-elected. Schaefer -- who called the governor "filth" yesterday -- plans to ask for his money back at the next Board of Public Works meeting.
At a noon rally in Annapolis, Willis said Schaefer's antics and personal attacks should alienate voters.
Not all agree. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich urged Democrats to vote for Schaefer yesterday.
"I look forward to working with Comptroller Schaefer on the Board of Public Works," Ehrlich said in a statement.
Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, College Park said Schaefer is smart to avoid debates with Willis.
"Let's face it, Schaefer is old and he may not be able to hold his own," Herrnson said. "Just looking at the two wouldn't help Schaefer."
Willis said he really wants to debate Schaefer on the issues. Willis said he opposes slots at Maryland racetracks while Schaefer supports them. Willis also said he supports collective bargaining for state employees while Schaefer opposes the idea.
Willis also requested debates with Schaefer last month. Schaefer said he was too busy.