Giant of Maryland politics, Gov., comptroller, Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer, R.I.P. 

A press release from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) office announces the passing of former Maryland governor, comptroller and Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer.
 
This is noteworthy.  Shaefer was, indisputably, the most outsized figure in the Free State’s politics over the past 30 years.  Ehrlich, O’Malley, Glendening, Schmoke, Mfume, Mike Miller, Busch: all these undeniably major players in Maryland politics dwarf in comparison to Shaefer’s antics and renown.
 
“Irascible,” “eccentric,” “cantankerous,” even “senile” in his later years, “mean;” and “beloved,” “loyal,” “iconoclastic,” and, as O’Malley’s statement praised him: “he cared.”  All those qualities had been attributed to Schaefer over the years, often invoked together, lumping in the laudable and the not-so-admirable at once in attempting to describe in full this complex, and very human, political animal.
 
Also invoked in O’Malley’s statement: “indomitable.”  Conjuring that term is testament to Schaefer’s refusal to exit the stage - even as his actions and his mouth kept embroiling him in hot water (see the aptly-titled piece from The Sun’s restrospective: “Politics as performance art”) - until he was finally unseated in 2006, falling in Democratic primary for state comptroller, a seat he parlayed to control the levers of Maryland state government again after he left the governor’s office in 1995.
 
Schaefer outraged Maryland’s monolithic Democratic establishment by endorsing George H.W. Bush for re-election in 1992, as the incumbent was going down to sound defeat, against the grain of his beloved homestate’s electorate.  He famously never married, so had no formal first lady, but he palled around with his complimentarily colorful longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops. 
The anecdote that I have always, and will forever, associated with Schaefer first ran in a WaPo magazine profile that ran back in 1993.  After sweeping into Annapolis for his first term with an astounding 82% of the vote, his re-elect total in 1990 dropped to just above 60%, against an underwhelming Republican challenger.  
Still, as WaPo magazine pro Peter Carlson wrote, “It was a landslide, a mandate, a triumph, an affirmation of his accomplishments.
But William Donald Schaefer didn't see it that way. To him it was a shock, a slap in the face. Forty percent of the people voted against him! He lost 12 counties, including most of the Eastern Shore! He felt he'd been rejected. Why didn't they like him? Didn't they know how hard he'd worked, how much he cared, how much he'd done for them? Like a scorned suitor, he was heartbroken and hurt. ‘Destroyed’ is the word he later used. 
(Then Lt. Gov.) Mickey Steinberg remembers walking into Schaefer's office one day not long after the election and seeing a map of Maryland with some counties colored in pink. ‘Governor, what's that?’ he asked.
 
‘These are the counties that voted against us,’ Schaefer said bitterly. ‘After all I did for them, they turn around and do this to me.’"
Schaefer wouldn’t forget.  Carlson colors the picture:
“Walking up the center aisle of the House of Delegates, on his way to a swearing-in ceremony in early 1991, William Donald Schaefer leaned toward the Eastern Shore delegation and said, ‘How's that sh*thouse of an Eastern Shore?’”
 William Donald Schaefer, R.I.P. Maryland won't see another like him.
Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of...

More by John Vaught LaBeaume

Latest in Nation

Saturday, Feb 17, 2018

Videos

Most Popular Stories

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation