- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

ANNAPOLIS "Let me out of here" squeals a voice from somewhere as you enter the office of one of Maryland's most powerful political forces.
Jaw dropped, blue eyes wide and hand at his cheek feigning surprise, William Donald Schaefer welcomes a visitor to his work space.
"It's behind that picture," he confesses. It turns out to be a talking motion detector, a gift from one of a loyal legion that has stuck by Mr. Schaefer through 16 years as Baltimore mayor, eight years as governor and, now, during his return to public life as state comptroller an office he has remade in his inimitable image.
True, Louis Goldstein and 40 years of his "God Bless Y'all Real Good" folksiness were a hard act to follow.
Many would-be successors might have run the risk of becoming wallpaper.
Not Mr. Schaefer with his "do-it-now" motto who jumped, rubber ducky in hand, into the national conscious in July 1981 when he kept a promise to swim with the seals if his city's National Aquarium wasn't completed on schedule.
Nobody expected Maryland's Democratic comptroller and former governor to sit quietly in his office when he returned to elective office in 1999. But they have sometimes been taken aback by the ferocity of his warfare against Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Nor did they foresee his move to deploy armed agents in a sting against unlicensed after-hours clubs in Baltimore for selling liquor and not paying taxes.
They should have known better. What on earth made them think he'd change?
On a rainy morning recently, Mr. Schaefer talked about the latest chapter of his political life over pancakes and eggs at Cookie's Kitchen diner near his Pasadena residence.
He continued the conversation later during a drive through Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties to examine land Mr. Glendening says the state should buy to prevent any environmental damage that could come from building on it.
His thoughts on the subject were made Schaefer-clear recently. "Buying land for the sake of buying it, I think it's dumb as hell," Mr. Schaefer said after hearing Department of Natural Resources Undersecretary Mike Nelson and staffers make a plea to buy wetlands to save the crested yellow orchid and a stand of giant cane, the state's only native species of bamboo.
In Mr. Schaefer's mental ledger of favors done and favors owed, Mr. Glendening might be the indirect beneficiary of a favor owed to someone else.
Mr. Schaefer wouldn't even be thinking about approving such a purchase, he said, if Delegate Joan Cadden, Anne Arundel County Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on public safety and administration, hadn't been very good to him when his budget came before her.
Such is the nature of Maryland politics. You pay your debts. Even if it sticks in your craw.
"Remember the governor spends money like it's going out of style," he reminded his entourage.
Time mellows many people. It can even smooth mountain ranges. But 77 years haven't taken the edge off Mr. Schaefer.
His title and powers are different, but he still wears his heart and venom on his sleeve. Where Mr. Goldstein acted as an ambassador for the state, Mr. Schaefer took what is a behind-the-scenes job that many voters can't pronounce (it's Kom-troller, not Kompt-troller) and turned it in a political center stage.
Last year, in a head-turning stunt, he went around to county fairs wearing a cape and carrying a crystal ball, supposedly to find Marylanders who had an unclaimed tax refund coming.
Longtime aides say when he's happy, so is everyone around him. When he's not, watch out. Mr. Schaefer isn't governor anymore, but he still insists on getting his own way even if enemies and some friends get their toes mashed.
His clashes with his successor, Mr. Glendening, at Board of Public Works meetings, have become legendary in just two years.
Mostly Mr. Glendening has been impassive, but last week he shot back.
As Mr. Schaefer goaded a Glendening administrator to answer a question differently, Mr. Glendening declared: "I don't play these games I'm more professional than that."
Their bad blood goes back at least to when Mr. Schaefer was in his term-limited last days as governor. Mr. Glendening was campaigning to be his successor and Mr. Schaefer didn't endorse him before or after he won the Democratic nomination.
Early in Mr. Glendening's tenure as governor, efforts to bring a professional football team back to Baltimore paid off. But Mr. Glendening snubbed Mr. Schaefer who had labored as mayor and governor to recover for Baltimore the Colts' loss leaving him out of the party invited on stage to celebrate recruiting a new team.
Then, after Mr. Goldstein died suddenly, Mr. Glendening tried to appoint someone else despite Mr. Schaefer's expressed interest in the job.
With just Mr. Schaefer, Mr. Glendening and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon on the board Mr. Dixon is often in the hot seat as the deciding vote.
Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Dixon have bucked Mr. Glendening repeatedly on issues such as building a controversial road to connect Interstates 270 and 95 north of the Capital Beltway and a police training center in Sykesville.
The Schaefer-Dixon bond frayed at a board meeting in January, however, and Mr. Schaefer hasn't gotten over it yet.
What happened was this: Mr. Dixon had stood with Mr. Schaefer against demolishing Memorial Stadium, where the Colts and the Orioles used to play, and where a World War II memorial is placed.
Then Mr. Dixon switched sides and backed a plan by Mr. Glendening and the Baltimore City Council to tear the stadium down to build senior housing and a YMCA.
Mr. Schaefer berated the Baltimore legislators and Mr. Dixon for their lack of fealty to veterans, whose World War II memorial is integral to the stadium.
He accused them of taking orders rather than thinking for themselves because they didn't bend to his arguments for making sure the memorial, if not the whole stadium, is preserved in redevelopment plans.
As Delegate Michael V. Dobson arrived at the podium to argue for the city's demolition plan, Mr. Schaefer remarked that he must be using a "script."
Before the smoke cleared, Mr. Schaefer had fired off snide remarks wide enough to hit just about everyone in the room, including Mr. Glendening's staff, Mr. Dixon, and political friends from Baltimore.
Reviews were not favorable. But the Marylander with a picture of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on his wall has seldom been stifled or bowed to political correctness. (He also doesn't agree with efforts to remove the Confederate flag, opining that no one can rewrite history.)
"I don't like [Mr. Dixon] anymore," Mr. Schaefer declared over his "junior breakfast" at Cookie's during that rainy morning Feb. 16.
The Treasurer's response: "Ever watch professional wrestling? … Hulk Hogan used to be a good guy, now they are making him a bad guy. On professional wrestling you never know what you are going to see."
Anyway, Mr. Dixon said he still likes the comptroller.
Mr. Dobson, the Baltimore Democrat who got hit with Mr. Schaefer's barb about reading from a script, put things in perspective. He said Mr. Schaefer is an equal-opportunity grump.
"Sometimes he goes over the edge when he makes statements that are not based in fact and are of a personal nature, but he can grill me until the cows come home," Mr. Dobson said.
It turns out Mr. Schaefer may get his way after all, despite losing the vote to save Memorial Stadium. Three weeks ago the developer, with the blessing of city government, has agreed to look for a way to save the facade and the memorial.
Although Schaefer game plans aren't always successful, they usually rely on offense, not defense. Mr. Schaefer may be the first bean counter in the nation with his own private army and the will to use it.
When Maryland raised its tobacco tax 30 cents in July 1999, Mr. Schaefer merged the comptroller's investigative services unit, state license bureau and motor-fuel testing lab into the field enforcement division, an arm that has increased from nine to 15 working agents intercepting cigarette smugglers, shutting down after-hours clubs and making sure motorists get the gasoline they pay for.
He has stepped up enforcement of laws that prohibit people from buying quantities of cheap cigarettes in neighboring states to bring to Maryland, where cigarettes cost more, thanks largely to a state tobacco tax that is the 12th-highest in the nation.
He also has increased enforcement of regulations on the sale of liquor and motor fuel.
Now Mr. Schaefer is dueling with Mr. Glendening over whether seized smuggled cigarettes should be auctioned, as they must be under current law, or destroyed so the state isn't abetting tobacco use it is working to stop.
The comptroller says he opposes smoking as an awful addictive habit, which he watched his "lady friend" Hilda Mae Snoops continue, despite emphysema, until the day she died.
While Mr. Glendening wants to mandate that seized cigarettes be destroyed, he supports a plan that would require that proceeds from seized cigarette sales go to anti-smoking education.
Mr. Schaefer lost a bid during the current General Assembly session to allow his agents to investigate and initiate criminal charges where they believe state income-tax laws have been violated.
Larry Tolliver Mr. Schaefer's former state police superintendent, now the comptroller's director of enforcement said tax-law prosecutions are thwarted now because they must depend on state's attorneys, who often have other priorities, to initiate them.
Meanwhile, Mr. Schaefer has turned to technology and shame to pressure tax cheats to pay. His Web site directs Internet surfers to a list of the states' worst offenders complete with names, addresses and amounts they are in arrears.
Part of "serving the people" (the slogan he adopted last year) is making sure cheaters don't pass the burden along to people who work and play by the rules.
To help the working poor, Mr. Schaefer has had his staff find and notify taxpayers who qualified for an earned income-tax credit but didn't apply.
Winding up a tour of Prince George's County two weeks ago, Mr. Schaefer stopped by to help that county's register of wills and her staff celebrate an office renovation he helped make possible.
He talked about the importance of keeping things looking nice to help morale and how a little paint and carpet could make people do even more work.
Then, acting a little embarrassed, he told them he had brought a gift.
"I hate to give you this," Mr. Schaefer said, sticking his tongue out as he picked up a picture of himself, framed for hanging. "They do this to me," he said, nodding at his staff.
"This is the way I'd put it up," he said turning it face to the wall.
No matter. Since he has no plans to retire and will probably run for comptroller in 2002, they can count on seeing him again.

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