Volume 14, Issue 37 ~ September 14 - September 20, 2006


Primary Populism: It’s Who You Know That Counts

No trend was clearer in Maryland's primary this week than the renewed appeal of old-fashioned grass-roots organizing. And we don't mean the kind that relies on deluging your home with phone gibberish.

In bouncing political icon William Donald Schaefer from the comptroller's office, Maryland voters showed that they won't hesitate to fire incumbents who have outlived their usefulness. Or act nutty.

Del. Peter Franchot, who came from nowhere to defeat Schaefer, also demonstrated the value of grass-roots campaigning while providing a significant victory for people committed to Chesapeake Bay.

Some mistakenly believe that the comptroller is just a bean-counter for state finances. Wrong.

Maryland's comptroller casts one of three votes (along with the governor and state treasurer) on the Board of Public Works, which considers all state contracts and leases over $200,000. These days, those decisions often deal with conservation and development issues that are vital to our environment and the Bay.

Discerning voters were aware of this key duty, and Franchot's reputation as an environmental advocate with integrity no doubt helped him triumph over Schaefer and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens.

Owens, a likeable politician who ran a strong second in the comptroller's race, aligned herself with developers during two terms in office and unnecessarily aggravated community organizations on land-use issues.

In November, Franchot will face Anne McCarthy, a Republican and the former dean of the University of Baltimore business school.

Schaefer remains an icon who has served Marylanders well in roles from Baltimore city councilman to mayor, for 16 years, to governor, for two terms, to comptroller, for two more terms.

But his intemperate chatter, often about women and minorities, came to haunt him. He complained this week that the campaign had been “nasty” and full of “innuendo.” But it was Schaefer's inexplicable comments about Owens — calling her Mother Hubbard and worse — that sounded nasty to us.

Sheriff George Johnson spent the last several years building alliances with community organizations and environmental groups. It paid off for Johnson, who captured the Democratic nomination in the race for Anne Arundel County executive over former Annapolis Mayor Dennis Callahan.

Likewise, Del. John Leopold, who led in the race to become the Republican nominee for Anne Arundel County executive, disproved those who said he couldn't succeed by relying on a door-to-door campaign in a county so large.

The pundits like to say that negative campaigning works, as do television blitzes, as opposed to grass-roots, shoe-leather campaigning.

In making seemingly wise choices this week, Maryland voters proved the pundits wrong.

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