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i believe he was governor at the time he made 'the place is an outhouse' comment, and it wasn't well-received or forgotten. as a kid, i remember inner harbor being 100% industrial area, nothing more than cobbled back alleys of baltimore, etc.. can't even imagine that now and i remember him as mayor during the time that place was re-invented.
 

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A very personable man.

He led a long and storied life. This is one of ours. He would eat in a certain lower Delaware restaurant on occasion. Wife and I were sitting near him in there on one of our visits. On his way out, he passed by our table and stopped to chat, if only briefly, like we were old time friends or something. If you knew him, you would know he was never one to ignore the ladies, so you can guess my wife got most of the attention....probably helped that she's originally from Baltimore(he didn't know that), but we were left with a nice impression after this one and only personal and public chance meeting.

He'll be missed. R.I.P. Willie Don.
 

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Here’s my long-winded account of my first and only meeting with Council President-Mayor-Governor-Counselor-Comptroller Schaefer. For those familiar with him, nothing in this story is surprising. For those not as familiar, I hope that it provides some insight into a Maryland icon:


Comptroller is arguably the most powerful position in the state. I had the opportunity to meet two contrasting Maryland icons exactly once, both while they were Maryland’s Comptroller.

Louis Goldstein, who was Comptroller forever (1959-1998, to be exact), swore me into the Maryland bar. Louis was a typical, old school southern Maryland, gentile politician. He was never at a loss for a compliment in his long drawl, never shied away from a back room deal to help his friends, always ready to horse trade road funding for a good country smoked ham.

His successor, William Donald Schaefer, was polar opposite. Schaefer was a direct, in-your-face politician who never left folks guessing about where he stood on an issue. He was an old-school fiscal conservative: He was not the kind who wanted to see government whither on the vine; rather, he saw government as a potential solution to many problems, but would become enraged if he saw government officials wasting the precious taxpayer revenue in ways that he did not think furthered society’s interests. He was also a master of the public-private partnership.

I first saw Schaefer on T.V. shortly after my family moved to Maryland in ’81. As Mayor of Baltimore, he had already orchestrated the miraculous renovation of the Baltimore waterfront, from rat-infested warehouses to a nationally-renowned tourist and shopping destination. The crown jewel of the new harbor was to be the National Aquarium, which he promised would be open by a certain date.

Unfortunately, it was behind schedule, so Schaefer donned a 1900s-style full-body striped swimsuit, held a giant rubber duck and honored a bet to swim in the marine mammal tank. Even at 12-years old, I was impressed that a mayor would honor that kind of bet, and could see how connected to the citizens he was.

When he became Governor, I recall watching excerpts of his first speech before the General Assembly on the evening news. It was extremely brief and ended with something like “Now let’s get to work!”

Fast-forward to 2002. The Maryland Department of the Environment refused to release certain water quality data to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. As a result, my firm represented CBF in a suit against MDE. The judge sided with CBF and MDE agreed to hand over the data. By statute, we were entitled to collect attorneys’ fees.

So, my first involvement in the case was to go before the Maryland Board of Public Works and ask it to allocate the $100,000 worth of fees to which we were entitled. For those unfamiliar with it, the Board consists of the Governor, the State Treasurer and the Comptroller. It sits in a beautiful, but centuries old, poorly ventilated room in the Maryland State House.

I arrived to a packed, standing only room. Most people were there for one reason; to watch the feisty Comptroller, cross-examine, toy with, belittle and erupt at various agency reps who would meekly approach the three-person alter to beg for money to fund whatever project was on their list that day.

Governor Glendenning and Treasurer Nixon entered the room and took their seats at the table with little notice. Shortly after, the murmurs in the room increased, everyone stood up and faced the back door as 80-year Comptroller Schaefer entered the room. He was energetically striding from one person to another, shaking hands with everyone, patting folks on the back, seeming to know everyone’s name plus a fact or two more about them. When he got to me, I introduced myself, said who I was. With a very firm handshake and a steely, knowing look that pierced right through me, he said “good luck young man” in a tone that was simultaneously ominous and reassuring.

As the meeting went on, the ominous feeling took over from any reassurance.

While the Governor and the Treasurer generally supported any new spending request, Schaefer demanded precise figures, detail oriented plans and exacting measurements for whom and how the spending would help, and why it was the preferred course of action. Woe to the witness who was unprepared. He cross examined each requestor like the most skilled trial lawyer. If he found a crack in the testimony, he exploited it mercilessly, calling into question the person’s competence to hold their job. If an agency or department head sent a young underling (rumored to be as a result of being afraid to face Schaeffer in person), that underling – and the room – was treated to an earful of how their boss should have the guts to appear at the meeting himself if the funding request was so critical.

Most entertaining of all were the digs at Governor Glendenning, for whom Schaeffer made no effort to hide is disdain. He routinely railed against what he saw as the Governor’s careless spending, made chicken-clucking noises when he thought the Governor was afraid to ask tough questions about funding requests, and never missed an opportunity to talk about their feud over the fountain on the Governor’s Mansion lawn – a fountain that Glendenning ordered turned off, even though Schaefer put it there when he was Governor in honor of his late-girlfriend, Hilda-Mae. Glendenning claimed it wasted water, while Schaeffer told the Governor that he “could put a brick in his commode and save just as much water.” This was Maryland old-school politics at its finest.

On this day, however, the feud that erupted most famously was not between the Comptroller and the Governor, but between the Comptroller and Treasurer Nixon, an African-American. In response to Schaefer questioning the benefits of one urban program and contrasting it with his own (obviously, successful) program to aid minorities at Johns Hopkins University, he and Nixon got into a yelling match in front of the large audience over the term “Afro” versus “African” American.

This battle may have saved me. It occurred right before my turn came to stand and request $100,000 tax dollars because the MDE bungled its case. It came before I expected to be exposed as the minion lawyer whose pressence was on behalf of my boss on the case, former Maryland Attorney General Steve Sachs, an opponent to Schaefer during his first Governor’s race.

CBF had a good working relationship with the Glendenning. Rumor had it that Schaefer would use this example to press the argument that Glendenning’s government is so incompetent that the state now has to pay some young, snot-nosed lawyer a bunch of money (actually, I was not the lawyer who tried the case, but that would not illustrate the proper story). My job was to request and secure the money while avoiding that kind of damaging sideshow. How I would accomplish that, I had no clue.

However, like any volcano, Mount Schaefer had erupted so thoroughly and violently during the great Afro-African debate that his crater fell dormant just as I stood. With a dismissive wave of the hand, he said to the audience – fine, I approve everything….this Governor’s going to spend us into the ground anyway.” (Or something along those lines.)

And so I was able to return triumphantly to DC, having “convinced” the dreaded Comptroller of the merits of handing over the money for our fees.

Particularly as Comptroller, Schaefer was widely criticized as a grumpy, over the hill curmudgeon who stayed on the job long past his useful service life. I agree that many of his statements as Comptroller (and some as Governor) were crude, unacceptable and unnecessary.

But I also saw, in that sweltering room in 2002, a person who cared deeply about Maryland and its people; someone who would fight to the death to give them the services that they need, and also to protect their revenue from waste. He was not some senile old coot, but remained a sharp-minded -- and sharp-tongued -- servant of the people. He was clearly proud of that role. Don Schaefer was Maryland that day, and on many other days, and he will be missed.
 

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May he RIP.....that said I loved him as baltimore's mayor and HATED him as gub'nor. I was a State employee at the time and it was bad times for a lot of his little minions. Had to go before the Board of Public Works once and had to be saved from the gub'nor's wrath by good old Louie Goldstein. But anytime I go to the Big OC or out to western Maryland I recognize it was old Willie Don that improved all the roads.
 
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