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Baltimore icon, former Maryland governor Schaefer dies
Served as mayor, then governor and state comptroller
Question of the Day
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.
He also presided over the Maryland State Board of Educations 1991 appointment of Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who will retire in June after 20 years leading a public school system that has in recent years been named by some publications as the nations best.
Mrs. Grasmick was first appointed by Mr. Schaefer in 1989 as the states special secretary for children, youth and families. She praised him Monday night for being responsive - so much so that he often quizzed agency directors on complaints he had received from residents - and making decisions based on his conscience, and not on partisan politics.
“He always made those judgments with sort of an independent mind,” she said. “It wasn’t about elevating himself. It was about helping people.”
But Mr. Schaefer found success harder to achieve in the larger political arena of Annapolis, unlike Baltimore where he often won by imposing his will upon the City Council and most everybody else in his working-class hometown.
Mr. Schaefer’s second term as governor will be largely remembered for fiscal crisis and his retaliating against criticism. His popularity eroded most notably after a derogatory remark he made comparing the Eastern Shore to an outhouse and after nasty letters he wrote to residents who were critical of his administration.
Mr. Schaefer also alienated many Democrats when he broke ranks with his party in 1992, famously endorsing Republican President George H.W. Bush over Democrat Bill Clinton.
He was prevented from running again by a state law limiting governors to two terms.
Mr. Schaefer never married. The only woman he was regularly associated with was his longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, a divorced mother whom he met in 1959 and gave the title of Official Maryland Hostess. She died in 1999.
Mr. Schaefer, bored with retirement, seemed reinvigorated when he pursued a bid for statewide office, as comptroller, in 1998. He won the post and served two terms until 2007, all the while defying political partisanship. Mr. Schaefer frequently directed withering criticism at his successor, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat - who would sit silently, not looking at the comptroller seated just inches away to his right.
He formed a close working relationship with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.
“I’m sad,” Mr. Ehrlich said Monday night. “We had great regard for the governor. He loved my wife, Kendel, very much.”
Mr. Ehrlich said that despite the differences in their political parties he bonded with Mr. Schaefer on a personal and philosophical level.
“He was representative of the old Democratic Party, a more conservative party that would include former Gov. [Marvin] Mandell. It was a connection with a very solid foundation established over many years,” Mr. Ehrlich said.
During his term as comptroller, Mr. Schaefer was also known for making outlandish - and sometimes controversial - comments during the twice-monthly Board of Public Works meetings.
Some of Mr. Schaefer’s headline-grabbing statements included complaints about Spanish-speaking fast-food workers and people with HIV.
After he retired from public life, Mr. Schaefer made few public appearances. In recent years, his health declined. He was admitted for five days earlier this month to a Baltimore hospital, where he was treated for pneumonia.
c Joseph Weber contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Matthew Cella is The Washington Times’ Metro editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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