Baltimore icon, former Maryland governor Schaefer dies

Served as mayor, then governor and state comptroller

William Donald Schaefer, the voluble and flamboyant former mayor and governor who towered over Maryland politics for four decades, died Monday night at his home at the Charlestown retirement community outside Baltimore.

Mr. Schaefer was 89.

An iconic figure, the Democrat served as Baltimore’s mayor from 1971 to 1987, rising to national prominence when he transformed the city’s abandoned downtown waterfront to one of the most popular urban tourist attractions in the nation, creating jobs and drawing visitors from across the state and country.

William Donald Schaefer loved his city and his state with great exuberance because there was nothing more important to him than the people that he served with such loyalty,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement Monday.

Mr. O’Malley directed that Mr. Schaefer will lie in state in the State House in Annapolis and the Rotunda of Baltimore City Hall and he ordered the state flag be flown at half staff in Mr. Schaefer’s honor.

Mr. Schaefer’s four terms as Baltimore mayor were a period of progress and transformation for the neglected industrial city, symbolized by the development of the Inner Harbor. He was a tireless advocate who restored to Baltimore residents a sense of pride in their city. He was an exacting, hard-charging leader who insisted on seeing to neighborhood-level details of mundane operations like filling potholes and collecting trash.

Harborplace opened in 1980, drawing millions to what had been a blighted city center. The National Aquarium opened a year later. That led to one of the most memorable images of an administration that valued political theater and the effectiveness of the photo opportunity. Mr. Schaefer in July 1981 donned a turn-of-the-century bathing suit and carried an inflatable duck into the Baltimore aquarium’s seal pool to settle a wager he made that the aquarium would open on time.

Perhaps the other most enduring image of his time in Baltimore was in March 1984, the morning a fleet of Mayflower trucks took his beloved Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis. A tearful Mr. Schaefer lashed out, thinking he had been close to a deal with Colts owner Robert Irsay to keep the team in Baltimore.

A lifelong Maryland resident, Mr. Schaefer was born in West Baltimore in 1921. He was a product of Baltimore public schools, he attended Baltimore City College in 1939 and the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he earned a law degree in 1942. He served in the Army in World War II and in the U.S. Army Reserve, where he retired as a colonel in 1979.

After unsuccessful campaigns in 1950 and 1954 for a General Assembly seat, Mr. Schaefer ran for Baltimore City Council and won in 1955. He served as president of the council from 1967 until 1971, when he ran for Baltimore mayor.

Former Gov. Harry Hughes, who preceded Mr. Schaefer from 1979 to 1987, said that while the two did not always agree or get along particularly well, he and others always respected Mr. Schaefers commitment to public service.

The two had a relatively cool relationship and often clashed over state funding for the city.

“He was a little bit controversial, but his dedication was always there,” said Mr. Hughes, a Democrat. “Nobody ever criticized him for not wanting to do the right thing as mayor or as governor.”

Mr. Schaefer served two terms as Maryland governor, from 1987 to 1995. As governor, he is largely credited as a driving force behind efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay and a Baltimore light-rail line.

Determined not to let the Orioles leave Baltimore as the Colts had done, he forged political alliances with General Assembly leaders to bring the $280 million Camden Yards stadium to the Inner Harbor, ushering in a new era of Orioles baseball fever.

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