By Howard Libit
Originally published July 2, 2002
In a surprise move, Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis entered
the Democratic primary last night to challenge Comptroller William
Donald Schaefer's bid for re-election.
But Maryland's Republican Party decided to aim its energy and resources
at the gubernatorial campaign of Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, not fielding any
high-profile candidates against either Schaefer or Attorney General J.
Joseph Curran Jr.
Other than Willis, the popular Democratic incumbents face what appears
to be only token opposition this fall, after several little-known candidates
filed before the 9 p.m. deadline for candidates to declare for the 2002
In the comptroller's race, Schaefer said he had been hearing rumors for
the past two months that Willis was considering a campaign. Schaefer said
he believes Willis was put up to the campaign by Gov. Parris N.
Glendening, with whom the comptroller frequently feuds.
"I guess I know who put him in. There isn't any question about that,"
Schaefer said last night. "He has a right to run. Everybody under our
Constitution has the right."
Willis, a Baltimore resident, could not be reached for comment last night.
He is an expert in Maryland electoral politics and has served as secretary
of state since the start of Glendening's administration. He served as
chairman of the committee appointed by Glendening to oversee
redistricting. The legislative map created by Glendening recently was
thrown out by Maryland's highest court.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's gubernatorial
campaign said last night that Townsend has supported Schaefer's bid for
re-election and continues to back the comptroller.
In addition to Willis, Schaefer will face one other opponent in the
Democratic primary: Lih Young of Montgomery County. Young lost to
Schaefer in the Democratic primary in 1998, and she also has run
unsuccessfully for Congress, state Senate, and Rockville mayor and City
Three others also filed yesterday to challenge Schaefer's bid for a second
term as comptroller - Republican Augustus Alzona of Montgomery
County, Republican Eugene R. Zarwell of Anne Arundel County and
Green Party member Beth Hufnagel of Howard County.
Zarwell sought the Republican nomination for comptroller in 1998 -
winning just 5 percent - and also has lost two bids for the U.S. Senate
and one campaign for Congress.
Alzona is a gun-rights advocate who recently drew headlines for
distributing a leaflet at a House Judiciary Committee hearing depicting
three state lawmakers as Nazis.
Hufnagel, an astronomy professor at Anne Arundel Community College,
said last night that she must secure the Green Party's statewide nomination
and then collect signatures from 1 percent of Maryland voters -or 25,607
valid signatures - by Aug. 5 to appear on the ballot in November.
Yesterday's deadline applied to races for statewide and local offices.
General Assembly candidates have been given an extra week by the
state's highest court because of lawsuits challenging Maryland's
As recently as yesterday morning, state Republican officials were unsure
whether anyone would file to challenge either Schaefer or Curran, and
they made it clear they didn't expect any well-known challengers to
"We live in the era of the real, and the real is that right now the party
weak," said Ehrlich, who formally filed for the governor's race yesterday.
"Once you win and show people you can make progress, then you begin
to attract more attention and more talented candidates for other offices."
State GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele - who was announced as
Ehrlich's running mate yesterday - said he would have preferred to get
credible, well-financed candidates for all offices. "But if we do not have
comptroller and attorney general candidates, all is not lost, because we
still have strong legislative candidates," Steele said.
Other Republican lawmakers said Schaefer and Curran are so
well-known to Maryland voters - and have such high approval - that it's
not worth taking on the two veterans.
"In a way, why bring voters out to vote for Schaefer or Curran, when
there's a good chance if they come out they're going to vote for the
straight Democratic ticket?" said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard
County Republican. "Sometimes you're better off not running someone
against a popular candidate."
In the campaign for attorney general, two Baltimore County Republican
lawyers will fight for the chance to take on Curran: Edwin MacVaugh and
Jeffrey N. Pritzker.
MacVaugh ran for the House of Delegates in the Towson area in 1994,
losing in the Republican primary to Del. James M. Kelly. He also was a
finalist to be picked as a replacement to Kelly this winter after the
delegate took a job in the Bush administration.
Pritzker is the managing partner of an 11-lawyer firm in Towson that
specializes in corporate law. He said he was upset by the attorney
general's decision to hire an outside law firm to handle Maryland's
litigation against tobacco companies - costing the state $150 million in fees
from the billion-dollar settlement.
"I think it was very unfortunate that $150 million, which could have been
used to help the people of the state of Maryland, had to be paid to an
outside law firm," Pritzker said.
Yesterday afternoon, Curran said he had not heard of either of his
opponents - but that he would not take re-election for granted.
"With or without a challenge, I'm going to campaign anyway, and I
expected someone would file," said Curran, who has held the office since
1986. "You want to be visible and let people know what the attorney
general is doing."
A spokesman for the state Democratic Party said the lack of known
candidates illustrates the problems that the GOP faces.
"They haven't got much of a farm team, and they surely don't have much
of a bench," David Paulson said. "That's their own fault."
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun