A 'legend' unseated

For the first time in more than 50 years, William Donald Schaefer - Baltimore's legendary mayor, two-term governor and state comptroller - conceded defeat yesterday. "The best man won," he told reporters gathered in Annapolis after he learned midmorning that Montgomery County Del. Peter Franchot had bested him in the Democratic primary. "I would have liked to have won."

Schaefer, 84, acknowledged his loss in a performance that was at turns playful, sarcastic, bitter and silly - everything Marylanders have come to expect from the defiantly proud Baltimorean who first won election to the City Council in 1955. And in commanding attention in Annapolis - staff members cheered as he arrived - he all but stole the limelight from Franchot and his surprise victory.Flanked by sign-waving, cheering supporters in Takoma Park, a triumphant Franchot - who had been told he was committing political suicide by trying to unseat Schaefer - declared victory yesterday.

"A lot of my colleagues said, 'Peter, you're stupid to challenge a Maryland legend,'" a beaming Franchot recalled. "A lot of those people today are saying, 'You did a really smart thing.'"

His victory over Schaefer and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens came seemingly out of nowhere. Two months ago, polls showed the state delegate - who called himself the only "true Democrat" in the contest - running a distant third behind his better-known opponents.

But the supremely confident Franchot quietly put together the pieces of an impressive primary victory, appealing to the traditional Democratic base and raking in endorsements from labor unions, environmental groups and progressive organizations that were able to deliver votes Tuesday.

The race was clearly a referendum on Schaefer, whose disparaging remarks about minorities, non-English speakers and, most recently, Owens, shifted political opinion against him. He called Owens, 62, a "Mother Hubbard," mocked her clothes and hair, and said she looked like a "great-great-grandmother." In the end, the man who once won 93 percent of the vote in a mayoral election saw 70 percent of Democrats vote against him.

Yesterday, he refused to say he was retiring, suggesting he might even run for Ocean City mayor. He lamented mean campaigns - despite his attacks on Owens. He baited the press, saying one reporter's face "makes me puke."

And he said he had no regrets: "Wherever I go in the state or wherever I go in the city, I've got things I can look at and throw my chest out."

Through the campaign, as Schaefer and Owens had their public spat, Franchot, 58, was somehow able to stay out of the way - and continued to attack the pair for their alliances with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and for their "pro-sprawl" and "pro-slots" positions. He spoke of his commitment to public parks, good schools and safe streets.

"This campaign wasn't about nursery rhymes," he said, "it was about issues."

Franchot, a five-term state delegate who works in Washington as a consultant to lobbyists, will face a political newcomer in the general election. Anne M. McCarthy, 48, a former dean of the University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business, defeated three opponents for the GOP nomination.

"The differences between us are pretty clear. He brings a longtime experience as a delegate, as a politician, and I bring a business perspective," McCarthy said yesterday. "He's a fiscal liberal - tax and spend - and I'm a fiscal conservative. I believe in keeping taxes as relatively low as possible."

Keith Haller, whose Bethesda firm conducts polls for The Sun, said Franchot enters the race as the front-runner. "On paper, it's Franchot's to lose," he said. "Franchot has established a base. He has put his persona out there. The Republican candidate is a complete unknown."

Even if the Republican Party fills McCarthy's campaign treasury and pushes her as an alternative to the liberal Franchot, it would take a lot for her to make a real run, Haller predicted. He used Josh Rales as an example. The Montgomery County businessman who ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate spent more than $5 million of his own money and received just 5 percent of the primary vote.

James G. Gimpel, a professor of government at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the Republicans are likely to pay more attention to the race with the liberal Franchot as the Democratic nominee.

"Much more is at stake now with the prospect of Peter Franchot running" the comptroller's office, he said.

At the rally of supporters yesterday outside Takoma Park City Hall, Franchot praised Schaefer for his years of service to Maryland. "When Baltimore needed leadership, he was there to help Baltimore," Franchot said. "He was a great governor. He has been one who has tirelessly fought for little people."

Schaefer, in his wide-ranging news conference, said if someone else had to win, he was glad it was Franchot. "The race was tough," he said. "I never thought I was going to lose. I thought it might be very close. He ran a good race, and I wish him luck."

In her news conference yesterday, Owens said she hadn't decided whether she would endorse Franchot. She was upset with how he had characterized her in the race and said she would need to sit down and talk with him.

She seemed taken aback by how the race turned out. The higher-than-expected turnout in Montgomery County, she said, was enough to push Franchot over the top, and she called the outcome "heartbreaking."

"At 3 o'clock [in the morning], it looked like we would win," she said.

Sun reporters Phillip McGowan and Jill Rosen contributed to this article.