WILLIAM Donald Schaefer is running for mayor.
For mayor of what -- or, more precisely, where -- nobody really knows. For openers, Mr. Schaefer, who can't succeed himself as governor, has more domiciles than Woody Allen. Besides the official mansion in Annapolis, there are the family home in West Baltimore, a parvenu condo in Ocean City and a townhouse in kudzu country on Fort Smallwood Road in upper Anne Arundel County.
The most persistent rumor has it that Mr. Schaefer might do a redux in Baltimore, where he was mayor for 16 years. Yet the codicil to the rumor, supplied readily by his cheerleaders, is that Mr. Schaefer won't run against an incumbent.
Decoded, that means Mr. Schaefer won't run against Mayor Kurt Schmoke but might well run against City Council President Mary Pat Clarke if Mr. Schmoke moves up or out before the next mayoral election in 1995 and Ms. Clarke runs for the seat she desperately wants.
It's been widely speculated that Mr. Schmoke would run for the U.S. Senate in 1994 if Democrat Paul Sarbanes decides to end his public career. But for all of those wannabes lined up either in front of or behind Mr. Schmoke, the "no vacancy" sign is up and lighted. Mr. Sarbarnes is emphatic about running for re-election and even adds a new and unusual dimension of emotion over the prospect of working with a Democratic president.
Mr. Schaefer, it is known, asked a long-time backer and close personal friend in Baltimore to organize a fall fund-raiser as a teaser for a campaign for mayor. Much to the governor's chagrin, however, the wealthy backer declined to participate, preferring instead to align his fortunes with the incumbent mayor.
More recently, Mr. Schaefer entertained a group of prominent Italian-Americans at the mansion. During dinner, the governor asked the group to organize a tribute to him from the Baltimore Italian-American community in preparation for a mayoral campaign. The group was reluctant and hasn't been heard from since.
What's more, political hobbyists in Baltimore say the temporary truce between Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke has soured to its old state of hostility. The city's on hold, the mayor's back on call-waiting and Mr. Schaefer is tucking it to Mr. Schmoke every which way he can.
At the epicenter of the latest gubernatorial bellyache is Mr. Schaefer's revival of an idea he floated a year ago to create an independent authority to manage the state's assets in Baltimore. Those assets are considerable -- the world Trade Center, the new ballyard, the community college, the Convention Center, the entire mass transit system, the Baltimore Zoo, the Maryland Science Center and the City Jail, to name a few.
Such an authority, in effect, would constitute a second city government under the control of Mr. Schaefer. It would have the authority to manufacture its own funny money by floating bands and to operate outside the brackets of City Hall. You've guessed it: another shadow government presided over by Mr. Schaefer. Don't knock it just yet. Mr. Schmoke's resisting the idea, and Mr. Schaefer's trying to ram it down his throat.
But the rumors don't stop at the city line. There's another body of thought that says Mr. Schaefer would love to be mayor of Ocean City. After all, he's the Big Daddy of the dune line, and he's had a trailer there for years.
Squatter's rights aside, only recently Mr. Schaefer kvetched that Ocean City doesn't promote itself in the eye-boggling fashion he likes, so the seaside sand spit promptly awarded a multi-million-dollar advertising contract to wheedle people to the Eastern Shore resort.
In the extreme, the OC rumor has it that Mr. Schaefer has already cut a deal with Mayor Fish Powell, who'll step down so Mr. Schaefer can run to succeed him. The*&%$ Eastern Shore, as Mr. Schaefer would characterize it, seems an unlikely place for a twilight politician, but one never knows with this one.
And what if all else fails? By petition and ballot, it might be possible to graft the territory around Fort Smallwood Road into an incorporated municipality and proclaim Mr. Schaefer Mayor for Life.
To be sure, Mr. Schaefer and the nomenclators around him have their own momentum. And rumors such as those swirling around Mr. Schaefer tend to float on their own gases.
At an age when he should be claiming his gold watch, Mr. Schaefer's nonetheless having a tough time letting go. He can't come to grips with the notion that there'll be political life after William Donald Schaefer, like it or not.
Frank A. DeFilippo writes every other week on Maryland politics.