William Donald Schaefer, a dominant political figure over the last half-century in Maryland, passed away Monday at the age of 89. Over the span of Schaefer’s lifetime he developed a legendary and central role in the Maryland political scene at both the local and state level as four terms as the Mayor of Baltimore City, two terms as Governor, and two terms as Comptroller. Additionally, Schaefer served as a MACo President in 1980. The Baltimore Sun reports :
Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Mr. Schaefer’s death Monday evening and said he will lie in state at the State House and City Hall.
“I think one of the tremendous qualities that he brought to office was that sense that everyone had that he marched to the beat of his own drum. He was not the sort of person who was going to be pushed around or bullied by other elected officials or by the fashions or the whims of the politics of the day. He was a person who had pretty strong opinions and he was a person who was not shy about sharing them,” Mr. O’Malley said.
“There wasn’t a person in the city of Baltimore that didn’t feel like they couldn’t stop him and approach him with a problem. … They knew he was always their mayor and he was always on their side,” Mr. O’Malley said at the State House.
Mr. Schaefer’s temper was legendary, but his eruptions were often calculated for maximum effect. He loved intensely — his mother, his friends, his city and state. And he hated fiercely — most notably in his poisonous relationship with former Gov. Parris N. Glendening and enduring contempt for the late Colts owner Robert Irsay.
As mayor, he was a tireless promoter of Baltimore. As governor, he was a builder whose second term soured in a wrenching fiscal crisis. By the time he left office, a series of gaffes — abusive letters to critical private citizens and his use of a derogatory term to describe the Eastern Shore — had dimmed his popularity.
In his final office, state comptroller, which he won in 1998 after four years of misery in retirement, he acted as an unofficial state gadfly — scolding governors and lesser officials and igniting controversies that might have sunk a lesser politician. But away from the spotlight, the comptroller also moved effectively to restore the reputation of the state’s scandal-ridden pension system.
In no other office did he seem quite as happy as when he was the leader of his city.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who noted that she was born just a year before Mr. Schaefer was elected to the office she holds, said in a statement that he “set the standard for what it means to be the mayor of an American city.”
Ms. Rawlings-Blake shared her recollections of Mr. Schaefer in front of his statue at the Inner Harbor on Monday evening.
“He was so important, particularly for my generation, he was the first mayor we all knew,” Ms. Rawlings-Blake said. “We have lost a true giant, a part of history.”
“His biggest gift was his spirit, a spirit of possibility, that we have a promising future,” she said.
A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Schaefer transcended political party and played by his own political rules. He supported Republicans over fellow party members when it suited him but held to a fundamental belief that government can be a positive force in people’s lives. Philosophically, he defied classification — except as an unrelenting advocate of the real people who were affected by government policies.