He's only 70. He can't run for governor again. He's fighting a lame-duck label. He's got little interest in retirement.
What's William Donald Schaefer to do?
Run for mayor of Baltimore, if you believe the political rumblings.
"Don't take this too lightly," one Baltimore businessman and political observer said yesterday.
"In the last few weeks, it's starting to sound really serious."
Aides to the governor say Mr. Schaefer is not discouraging political allies -- legislators, community leaders, business people -- who are urging him to consider seeking a fifth term as mayor when his second gubernatorial term ends in 1995.
"They're starting to talk to people -- 'what if' -- and to get people's reactions," said Pam Kelly, one of Mr. Schaefer's closest advisers.
There's precedent for a governor becoming mayor: Theodore R. McKeldin was elected mayor in 1943, went on to the State House, and returned as mayor in 1963. Such political ping-pong is known as "doing a McKeldin."
Of course, talk like this serves lots of people's political agendas -- without committing anyone to anything.
Mr. Schaefer, in his marathon wrestling match with the legislature, wants to convey the message that he's no lame duck, that even after his gubernatorial term ends he'll remain a state political power.
His aides, many of whom have spent their entire careers working for him, cherish the hope that he will not retire any time soon to leave them alone and jobless.
And the governor's longtime supporters like the thought that an old friend, a man they can do business with, could be leading the city again.
"There are a lot of people who want it to be so," said Ms. Kelly. "He's very flattered. As a politician, he's keeping his options open."
Is it just a fairy tale, just wistful dreams of people who don't have entree into the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, people who want their urban cheerleader back?
Can Mr. Schaefer go home again?
"Why not?" asked Edgar Silver, a lobbyist and longtime Schaefer partisan. "I think the people see him as almost natural to be the mayor of Baltimore."
"I think he's electable," said the Rev. Wendell H. Phillips, pastor of the Heritage United Church of Christ and a former city $H delegate.
Mr. Schaefer "has turned a lot of people off . . . since he's been governor. But then, the things he did when he was here I thought would turn people off. And he kept getting elected."
Not everyone is so sure.
Some people who worked in Mr. Schaefer's City Hall say that times have changed -- and so have the city and Mr. Schaefer.
Some of his greatest accomplishments were financed in the 1970s and 1980s with federal and state money not available in a recession.
But Schaefer believers say his success depended not on money but his energy and devotion to the city. Legislators say Mr. Schaefer has begun to matter-of-factly mention the possibility. The governor, ever coy, won't address the issue directly.
Asked about his plans yesterday in Baltimore, Mr. Schaefer said, "I think about the city. I worry about the deterioration of the city."
And then, to be sure the questioner didn't miss his point, the man who oversaw grand renewal programs and mundane street-cleaning operations from Baltimore's City Hall, said:
"I was up in Hancock [in Western Maryland] the other day helping the mayor up there doing the things I used to do in the city. That was a day of joy for me."
In January 1995, when his second term ends and state law bars him from running again for governor, Mr. Schaefer will be 73 years old -- a young 73, Mr. Silver says.
The next mayoral election would come that fall, giving Mr. Schaefer time for a nice vacation and several months of campaigning.
For many Schaefer supporters, the 1995 scenario seems to presume that Mayor Schmoke will magically have drifted out of City Hall and on to another job: governor, perhaps, or the U.S. Senate.
"He wouldn't run against Kurt," state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-City, said of Mr. Schaefer.
Should Mr. Schmoke leave City Hall before his second term ends, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke would succeed him, becoming the incumbent that Mr. Schaefer would have to challenge in 1995.
Though most observers seem to think Mr. Schaefer would avoid running against Mr. Schmoke, no one seemed to think he would have second thoughts about Ms. Clarke.
Mr. Schaefer yesterday would discuss neither scenario.
All he would say is that he does not try to dissuade any of his backers.
"I'm not discouraging my run for Congress," he said. "I'm not discouraging my run for Senate. I'm not discouraging my run for mayor."
"Why would he tell them to stop?" Ms. Kelly asked.
"What politician would? Even if nothing comes of it, it cannot hurt him."