The governor, up (real) close and personal Schaefer spends an hour with man who wrote sarcastic letters.

March 12, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Cornelius "Con" Hourihan couldn't imagine who would come knocking on his door Saturday morning. Thinking it might be a bill collector, he walked around his Catonsville house to take a peek.

Nothing could have prepared him for what he found: a Lincoln Town Car parked outside and Gov. William Donald Schaefer standing on his front porch.

"He was out there having a discussion with my dog," said Hourihan, 50, an engineer with Westinghouse. Actually, the cocker spaniel ("beautiful with no brains") was barking and running about, Hourihan said.

Hourihan knew immediately what had prompted the unusual visit -- several sarcastic and, one might say, nasty letters he had mailed to the man he calls "His Royal Highness William Donald Schaefer."

Schaefer, wearing a sport jacket, tie and dress shirt, arrived clutching a fistful of the letters, Hourihan said. "I said, 'Good morning, Mr. Mayor. You've come to talk to me about my letters. He said, 'I certainly have.' "

Schaefer announced last month that he had kicked his habit of answering such letters with equal nastiness after he received unfavorable publicity. Apparently, however, he believed that a personal visit was in order for Hourihan.

Hourihan was game for the opportunity and invited the governor to unload his troubles over coffee in his home. And unload he did.

"He came to complain, to chastise and to intimidate," Hourihan ++ said. At one point, Hourihan said, the governor wagged his finger at him and called him "young man," which Hourihan found amusing since he is the father of five grown children.

"We remained civil to each other in large part because my 75-year-old mother was present -- I'm convinced of that," Hourihan said.

Every time Hourihan felt the urge to respond in a less than absolutely courteous manner, he said, his mother would "cluck" at him.

Hourihan, however, tried to get a wee bit even: "I spiked his coffee with enough sugar and powdered cream to gag a mule, but he slurped it down and congratulated my mother on her great coffee."

Hourihan said his mother corrected Schaefer on this point, saying her daughter-in-law actually had brewed the coffee.

Schaefer vented his unhappiness at several highly critical letters that Hourihan sent him and the editor of the Baltimore Sun. Hourihan said he mailed the letters to Schaefer personally about a week ago after he grew tired of waiting for the newspaper to publish them.

The letters accused Schaefer of arrogance and worse.

One assertion struck Schaefer as libelous. In a letter, Hourihan wrote: "His Royal Highness Schaefer and the whole pack of thieves ought to be brought before a citizens' court and tried for high crimes of chutzpah in office, official brazenness, social effrontery, bald arrogance and downright gall."

Schaefer repeated the libel charge two or three times. "I invited his suit each time," Hourihan said.

But the governor was willing to give credit where credit was due. "He also said three times I was not like those other yellow-bellied cowards who were not man enough to sign their names."

The governor also felt compelled to discuss his controversial pay raise -- the source of considerable public criticism -- and his problems with folks in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, many of whom voted for his opponent in the last election.

Schaefer also said that "he's not appreciated for what he's done for us," Hourihan recalled. "I pointed out that many benevolent tyrants feel that way, but he didn't hear me," he said.

Schaefer's press secretary, Paul Schurick, confirmed that Schaefer's unusual visit with Hourihan took place. Another Schaefer press aide said Hourihan's letters contained incorrect information and speculated that "the governor went to set the record straight."

Hourihan said he and Schaefer agreed on only one point: "that we don't need a lieutenant governor."

"I think [Lt. Gov. Melvin A.] Steinberg is really being frosted these days," Hourihan speculated.

Before he ended their hour-long conversation, Schaefer took exception with Hourihan's habit of calling him "Mr. Mayor."

"He said, 'You refuse to recognize that I'm the governor and I still have three years to go.' He was either sad or he's a damn good actor."

Hourihan admits he had some fun writing the letters. As for the gubernatorial visit, "I can't say I enjoyed it. All facetiousness aside, it was strange."

Then, he added, "I think I would have enjoyed it more if he were listening."

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