ANNAPOLIS-Refusing to admit that his 51-year political career was over, William Donald Schaefer nevertheless conceded defeat to Montgomery County Delegate Peter Franchot Wednesday after capturing just 30 percent of the Democratic primary vote in his bid for a third term as state comptroller.
With several of his supporters and staffers on hand for a press conference in Annapolis, the 84-year-old Schaefer said that “the best man won” and wished Franchot luck.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Franchot’s 36 percent of the vote narrowly topped Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens’ 34 percent in an upset that was not decided until late Wednesday morning when totals from Montgomery County were counted.
Franchot, a resident of Takoma Park, will move on to the general election to face Anne M. McCarthy, the former University of Baltimore business school dean who captured the Republican nomination by garnering 43 percent of the vote in a four-way race.
In other races at the top of the ticket, a second Montgomery County politician, State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, soundly defeated former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Stuart O. Simms in the contest to replace retiring Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
He will face Republican Scott L. Rolle, Frederick County state’s attorney, in the general election. Rolle and McCarthy will join the Republican ticket headed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and his running mate, Kristen Cox.
Franchot and Gansler will run with Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and his running mate, Anthony G. Brown, a delegate from Prince George’s County, on the Democratic ticket. Neither Ehrlich nor O’Malley faced a serious primary challenge.
The comptroller’s race dominated political news over the summer, largely because of Schaefer’s own erratic behavior and irreverent remarks, mostly directed at Owens. He called her “Mother Hubbard,” made fun of her hair and suggested she was getting fat. He then blamed her for starting name-calling.
Franchot, trailing in the polls throughout the campaign, managed to stay out of the fray.
“I just went right to the Democratic base and said, ‘Please vote for me, because I share your values,’ and I always got a great response back,” he was quoted as saying Wednesday by the Associated Press.
Franchot also linked both his opponents to Ehrlich, and cast himself as the only true Democrat in the field. Owens, meanwhile, despite her lead in the polls, ran a low-key, at times invisible campaign until the very end, when Schaefer’s continual baiting finally brought an angry response.
The defeat of Schaefer marks his first since he entered elective politics in 1955 with a race for the Baltimore City Council. His subsequent service as City Council President, four-term Baltimore mayor and two-term governor made him a political icon in the state and gave him virtually 100 percent name recognition.
But his stinging repudiation at the polls — he failed to get a third of the vote — was a clear message that he had stayed on the scene too long and that his colorful, unpredictable behavior had worn thin.
Wednesday, Schaefer said he had no regrets about his behavior.
“If they think I’m ever going to change, and keep my mouth shut and try to be politically correct,” Schaefer said to applause from his aides, his critics are wrong.
But Schaefer simply refused to answer directly when asked if he would ever run for elected office again, instead joking with reporters that he is mulling a bid for mayor in Ocean City. More immediately, he said, he was concerned with going to lunch.
He said that when people reflect upon his career, he would want them to invoke two words: “he cared.”