State officials gather to celebrate Schaefer

Former governor, Baltimore mayor remembered as a ‘dominant figure’

Gov. Martin O'Malley and his son, William, pay respects at the casket of longtime Maryland politician William Donald Schaefer in the State House in Annapolis. (Associated Press)Gov. Martin O’Malley and his son, William, pay respects at the casket of longtime Maryland politician William Donald Schaefer in the State House in Annapolis. (Associated Press)
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ANNAPOLIS | Dozens of current and former state officials gathered Monday at the state capital to pay tribute to William Donald Schaefer, the former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor who died April 18 at age 89.

They were joined by hundreds of everyday Marylanders who streamed past Mr. Schaefer’s closed casket for a public viewing at the State House, part of a three-day farewell for Mr. Schaefer, a Democrat who spent more than 30 years as a Baltimore councilman and mayor before becoming Maryland governor, then state comptroller.

Former colleagues remembered him as a complex yet caring man, whose colorful personality was matched only by his commitment to the people he served.

“He was a dominant figure in 20th century Maryland politics, and we’re never going to see his like again,” said former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, a Republican who served from 2003 to 2007. “He cared about making life better for the people of Maryland.”

Roughly 70 people were already waiting outside the State House’s main hall when the motorcade arrived at 9:30 a.m. with the casket, draped with an American flag.

Inside the main hall, a single wreath stood at the foot of the casket, emblazoned with the words, “He cared” - a phrase by which Mr. Schaefer famously said he wanted to be remembered.

The public was allowed inside the State House at about 10:15 a.m., after a 45-minute private viewing during which state and national legislators and all five of Maryland’s living governors said their goodbyes.

“I’ll remember him as a very dedicated, honest individual. He was a very, very sincere guy,” said former Gov. Marvin Mandel, a Democrat who held office from 1969 to 1979 and was a longtime friend of Mr. Schaefer.

Mr. Schaefer’s casket was taken by motorcade Monday afternoon to pass several sites in Baltimore before arriving at City Hall, where it will lie in state through Tuesday. His funeral and burial will be held Wednesday in the city.

As mayor of Baltimore from 1971 to 1987, Mr. Schaefer is widely credited with restoring pride to a dying industrial city through massive infrastructure improvements, such as the Baltimore subway system, the downtown convention center and Harborplace - the crown jewel in the world-renowned revitalization of the city’s Inner Harbor.

The Baltimore native took a tireless, almost dictatorial approach to getting what he wanted for the city before leaving for Annapolis in 1987, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

As governor, Mr. Schaefer successfully championed restoring the Chesapeake Bay and building Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but he never fully adjusted to his new role, Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller, Senate president since 1987, said the governor was often frustrated by the state’s deliberate legislative process, complete with seemingly endless hearings and debates.

“He much rather preferred being mayor than he did being governor,” said Mr. Miller, a Prince George’s Democrat. “He was the greatest mayor of all time, but just a mediocre governor because he never could understand the checks and balances of government.”

Mr. Schaefer was known just as much for his personality as his accomplishments. He was often blunt to a fault and seldom shied away from publicity stunts, famously plunging into a seal tank at the 1981 opening of the National Aquarium in Baltimore and bursting from a shipping crate while donning a naval uniform to mark his move from Baltimore to Annapolis.

While such antics earned him fans throughout the state, his outspoken, unapologetic style also earned him some enemies.

In 1991, he made an infamous remark denigrating the state’s Eastern Shore - a comment that supporters say was only part of some banter with an Eastern Shore delegate.

Many of his most controversial remarks came during his time as comptroller, an office he took at age 77 and held for eight years.

Mr. Schaefer infamously railed against non-English-speaking immigrants - particularly a McDonald’s cashier in 2004 - and AIDS patients, who he described in 2004 as “a danger.”

He was criticized in 2006 for beckoning toward a 24-year-old female assistant of then-Gov. Ehrlich so he could watch her walk away again, and he was defeated in a 2006 primary race during which he made multiple sexist remarks about opponent and then-Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Despite such incidents, Mr. Ehrlich said Mr. Schaefer will be best remembered for his honesty and dedication to the public.

“He was certainly a product of his generation,” he said. “Regardless of where he stood or what he did, people came to realize over the years that he was operating from his heart.”

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