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Ex-candidate wins key backing to lead state Democratic Party


Top Maryland Democrats agreed yesterday to back former congressional candidate Terry Lierman as the next state party chairman, according to several sources familiar with the decision.

The agreement came at a breakfast meeting in Columbia attended by Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and others.

Lierman, 56, of Bethesda ran unsuccessfully against then-U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella in 2000 and directed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's presidential campaign in Maryland this year.

He and Gary Gensler, a former Treasury Department official and investment banker, have been seeking the party chairmanship, which is being vacated by former Montgomery County Councilman Isiah Leggett. The support of many top elected officials makes it likely that Lierman will be formally named to the post when the state party meets Dec. 13.

Lierman said yesterday that he knew about the meeting but was out of town all day and didn't know what happened.

Sources said those at the meeting agreed not to speak publicly about it out of respect for Gensler, a top fund-raiser whom they see as an important player in the party in the future.

With Leggett stepping down, Democratic leaders said they were looking for a chairman to further energize the party and prepare for a 2006 challenge to GOP Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Lierman is aligned with the liberal wing of the party and helped organize a summit of Democratic leaders designed to make the party coalesce around a progressive agenda. More than 600 Democrats attended, and both O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan spoke.

A multimillionaire businessman and lobbyist, Lierman largely funded his own campaign against Morella. He outspent her 2-to-1 but still lost by nearly 20,000 votes.

He became the object of some dispute during that race amid reports that in 1999 he gave a $25,000 unsecured loan to Virginia Rep. James P. Moran Jr. At the time, Lierman worked as a lobbyist for Schering-Plough Corp., a pharmaceutical company that was trying to extend its patent for the allergy drug Claritin. Moran, a Democrat, co-sponsored a bill that helped the company.

Lierman said at the time that he made the loan to help Moran, his friend of more than two decades, not to influence legislation.

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