Go ahead and make Schaefer king

Frank A. DeFilippo

May 09, 1991|By Frank A. DeFilippo

NOW THAT the General Assembly is over and done with, Governor Schaefer is back doing what he does best: being mayor.

Schaefer is happiest, wack-a-do hats or not, when he's out of the State House, away from Annapolis, tramping the familiar pathways of Baltimore, doing those smarmy mayoral things for which he became famous.

Schaefer is the master of the metaphor, a symbol-minded public official -- just kidding, governor -- a form-follows-function executive who uses charts and backdrops as grand public relations gestures. Above all, he knows where the television cameras are.

The other day, the governor was at Harborplace proclaiming the official beginning of the Maryland vacation season (because he said so, that's why.) After that, Schaefer, on a day's notice, dropped by the Flower Mart -- a strictly Baltimore rite of spring over which the mayor presides -- where he once again upstaged Kurt Schmoke in his home town. Then at the Camden Yards stadium construction site today, Schaefer and a group of hard-hats were to be taped singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," for broadcast next Wednesday on "CBS This Morning."

Schaefer flew to Chicago for the opening of the new Comiskey Park. He did that for two reasons: to remind us, lest we forget, that he's the moving force behind Baltimore's stadium and to give himself the public relations advantage of organizing the ceremonial opening of the new ballpark -- once again in Schmoke's city. He's already talking about a full week of hype and hoopla as well as two opening days. The planning ought to keep Schaefer busy for a year.

And to put an exclamation point on the sudden PR extravaganza, together Schaefer and Schmoke led a parade of dignitaries up Charles Street for a huge tent party celebrating the opening of the Walters Art Gallery's restored Hackerman House, donated by the governor's friend, Willard Hackerman. Schaefer even appointed what he called a "people's cabinet," which is made up of campaign functionaries and political allies.

So what could top Schaefer's sunny-side-of-the-street activity, when he's out on the road playing the impresario of the photo opportunity and the king of kitsch?

Why, nothing short of dinner with royalty! And Schaefer and his companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, will be doing just that. They'll be dining with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the British Embassy next week. It'll be the evening after HRH sees her first baseball game, the Orioles and Oakland A's in Baltimore, so they'll probably be discussing rotisserie baseball. Either that or reparations for damage done to Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

Yet despite the public happy face, there's still a private dark side to Schaefer, a kind of brooding Banquo. He's like a man with an ulcer, always kvetching. Schaefer's now complaining to legislators by letter about "deep cuts to my staff budget," telling them that "we will no longer be able to serve you as well or as quickly as we have in the past."

Get this: Out of a staff budget of $6.5 million, the General %J Assembly nicked $246,000. The governor still has a personal staff of 106 -- not including personnel who are on loan from other departments and who are paid out of other state agency budgets. For example, Schaefer has a half-dozen bodies tucked away on the secretary of state's payroll who do the governor's advance work on road trips. He has one of the largest public relations staffs of any governor in the country.

At the same time Schaefer is ordering state employees to increase their work week by 4 1/2 hours, he's lowering the work load of his own staff by cutting services to lawmakers. His letter to legislators grumped: "You may not be aware that last year my staff lost 6,066 hours of overtime, 790 hours of annual leave and 678 hours of personal leave time. This does not include all the long hours worked and lost by those of my executive staff who are in the upper level of the Executive Pay Plan and get no credit for overtime worked." Does some bean counter really keep track of all this? We're talking about staff members and cabinet officers who are in salary brackets anywhere from $75,000 to $110,000 and even lower-level assistants who earn up to $50,000 a year.

Schaefer's determined to get even in other ways, too. He avenged the budget cut by sacking two of Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg's five staff members to make up about $140,000 in salaries and fringes -- at the same time he kept his own staff intact. And to further stick it to Steinberg, Schaefer ejected the lieutenant governor as head of the medivac helicopter advisory committee.

All of which brings up an idea. If Schaefer enjoys the public relations side of government as much as he detests dealing with the General Assembly and anyone else who gets in his way, why don't we do as the British do? Why don't we let Schaefer be the ceremonial head of state just as the queen is, and let someone else tend to running the business of government as the British prime minister does? Say, Steinberg?

Then everybody will be happy.

Frank A. DeFilippo comments regularly on Maryland politics.

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