William Donald Schaefer's shadow looms large over the political landscape. Both his flaws and successes appear bigger than life. He has shaken state government to its core. He has preached his "do it now" message in every community and town. Maryland today is better off than it was before he stepped into the governor's office.
Don Schaefer has faults -- fabulous faults. He is emotional, often volatile and stubbornly refuses to form a partnership with the legislature.
Yet his overall record sparkles. He has energized a formerly lethargic state government and has set an ambitious agenda to position Maryland for the 21st century.
William S. Shepard, the Republican nominee, has run a constructive campaign and has raised valid concerns: lack of planning, poor relations with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Still, he has failed to make a persuasive case that he is better equipped to be Maryland's chief executive officer.
Mr. Schaefer is a brilliant motivator. He has constantly prodded the vast bureaucracy to deliver improved service. The result has been new enthusiasm within agencies and prompt response to citizen demands.
Blessed with huge revenue surpluses, he targeted RTC long-neglected social programs and building projects. He courageously took on -- and defeated -- the vested interests within higher education to revamp its governing structure, then increased aid by an unprecedented 44 percent.
Mr. Schaefer addressed a vital need in making the Chesapeake Bay a top priority. He created an array of programs to spur cleanups, limit shoreline development and heighten citizen involvement.
Economic development efforts multiplied, from a "signature" golf course as part of a larger tourism initiative in Western Maryland to the beach replenishment program in Ocean City. In Baltimore, the governor insisted on a downtown stadium complex likely to usher in a new wave of tourism and business investment.
Mr. Schaefer used a gas-tax increase for massive road improvements, especially in gridlocked Montgomery County. For the Baltimore area, he pushed a light-rail from Hunt Valley through downtown to Glen Burnie. He charged ahead on a "reach the beach" road project for the Eastern Shore. And he prodded labor and management at the Port of Baltimore to stop an alarming decline.
Faced with a slumping economy that threatens a $300-million deficit, Mr. Schaefer took quick action. Despite the big-spender charge, he is clearly equipped to deal with this troubling problem.
As mayor of Baltimore for 15 years, Mr. Schaefer learned how to run a government strapped for cash. He may be forced to repeat that performance if the recession lingers. But we feel confident that in good times or bad, William Donald Schaefer is the right man for Maryland. We support his re-election as governor.