'You are everything that speaks of stupidity,' replies Schaefer to one critical constituent


January 23, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Some folks jokingly call them "love letters," those ironical, pointed and sometimes downright angry handwritten missives from Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

State legislators and journalists often receive such notes, and so do a number of Marylanders who have piqued the governor's interest by mailing a critical letter to him or to a newspaper.

Take G. David Nottingham, 63, a Westminster businessman and part-time teacher. His local newspaper, the Carroll County Times, published a letter by Nottingham in which he commented on the governor's "petulant, near-paranoid scribbled reply to a recent Times editorial" criticizing the size of Schaefer's press office.

"Little Lord Ballamer is still in his dudgeons (whiny funks) over his countywide loss in our recent elections. He also confronts a recessional downturn of many years without having lots of loose state monies to spend on his homogonous [sic] pet projects," Nottingham wrote.

Earlier this month, Nottingham received a handwritten reply from the governor.

"Dear David Nottingbrain!" the letter began. "Your letter sounds like a frustrated little boy. How old are you? [Signed] Don Schaefer. I pay taxes on real estate federal and state!! Most likely more than you!! D"

Nottingham said he "roared" when he read Schaefer's response. "Life's a bowl of cherries, but politics today is a circus," the Westminster man said.

"He's under a lot of pressure. I understand that," Nottingham said. Still, the fact that the governor would take time to write such a letter is "a bit unusual, you must admit."

Nottingham appeared to have gotten the last laugh, so to speak, when he gave the governor's letter to the Times to publish.

Ray Feldmann, a Schaefer spokesman, said, "The governor is the governor, and if he feels strongly about something or someone he will write a letter." As for the note to Nottingham, "the governor certainly feels it was an appropriate response, and we'll let him be the judge of that."

The governor eventually made his peace with Nottingham, inviting him to meet with him. Schaefer also also sent a letter to the Times explaining himself.

Nottingham declined the invitation, writing, "Dear Guv, My mission for freedom of the press is accomplished by your conciliatory letter published Sunday [Jan. 13] in the Times."

Schaefer enjoys reading letters sent to his office and newspaper items clipped by his staff so he can keep in touch with constituents and glean new ideas, an aide said. His office made some of his handwritten letters available to The Evening Sun on the condition that the constituents' names not be used.

Schaefer receives roughly 300 letters daily -- more during the General Assembly session. The bulk of them are screened by mail systems coordinator Cindy Garofalo, who records them in a computer and channels them to the appropriate person to answer within two weeks.

At least half of Schaefer's mail winds up on his desk, in one form or another, an aide said. An unknown number of envelopes marked "personal and confidential" are sent unopened to the governor, who often dashes off replies on the weekends, the aide said. "He refuses to be isolated."

Schaefer also dislikes being misunderstood by others.

He took issue with a letter to the editor that appeared in the Capital in Annapolis last month. An Annapolis man alleged that Schaefer's "poor showing" in the November election, in which he received about 60 percent of the votes cast, could be attributed to his tax-and-spend habits. The man hit a Schaefer sore spot when he noted that Maryland had a surplus several years ago but now is facing revenue shortfalls.

Schaefer obtained the man's address and put pen to paper. "The surplus was spent to handle the savings and loan crisis of the previous administration, for repairs to buildings that had been neglected for years, and part was returned to uninformed letter writers like you. . . . You are everything that speaks of stupidity. [Signed] Don Schaefer."

Schaefer's letters also can be warm and thoughtful. To a young woman who tearfully spoke about her success in Alcoholics Anonymous at a high school one day, Schaefer wrote, "What a fine, courageous young lady you are! . . . We are very proud of you."

Sometimes he even takes constituent mail to Cabinet meetings, like the letter from the high school senior who had written Schaefer to complain about her rejection from Loyola College in Baltimore.

"It does not make sense to me that you urge us to continue our education in Maryland but the colleges your funds are supporting are not accepting Maryland students," the Howard County teen-ager wrote last spring.

Schaefer replied, "Your letter was the subject of discussion at our Cabinet meeting. You are right! We do encourage our young people to attend local colleges." He even sent the college a copy of her letter, with a note saying he understood that "competition to attend Loyola is highly competitive (a great compliment to you)."

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