2 Cheers for Schaefer's Declaration of Independence He was a Jerk or a Fearlessly Conniving Politician

BARRY RASCOVAR

November 15, 1992|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Is our governor as daffy as the Mad Hatter? As scrambled a Humpty-Dumpty? As confused as Elmer Fudd?

Judging from the reaction to William Donald Schaefer's pre-election endorsement of George Bush, you'd think all of the above are true. Democratic cheerleaders were quick to ridicule Mr. Schaefer. How dare he shake the hand of a president who has failed to aid Baltimore City? How dare he turn his back on fellow Democrats? How dare he work to defeat Bill Clinton?

Here's one vote that our governor wasn't a Judas. Whether he was a jerk or a fearlessly conniving politician is the operative question.

Let's review the two options.

* He was a jerk.

Donald Schaefer is not an intellectual. He reacts based on his emotional instincts and common sense. He is a visceral politician, not a cerebral one.

We know he doesn't like Bill Clinton. Did Governor Clinton at some point snub Don Schaefer? The Maryland governor is famous for holding his grudges. Is it that Mr. Schaefer doesn't like the younger generation of blow-dried TV politicians?

Regardless of the reason, Mr. Schaefer views Bill Clinton as a phony; he never intended to back him.

At the same time, Mr. Schaefer admires George Bush. The Bushes have invited the Maryland governor to the White House and to Camp David. The president has frequently visited Maryland and always been warm toward Mr. Schaefer.

The two men are of the same generation. Both served in the military and saw gruesome things during World War II. It is a shared experience that shaped their lives.

So is it any wonder that our governor endorsed Mr. Bush? It may have been a politically irrational move. It may have further alienated a governor with few allies left in Annapolis. But Mr. Schaefer believes deeply in sticking by his friends to the end.

So when he got that phone call from James Baker seeking his endorsement, Donald Schaefer never hesitated.

* He's a fearlessly conniving politician.

Mr. Schaefer knew Maryland and Baltimore would be well taken care of under a Clinton administration. So many state and city politicos are supporters of Mr. Clinton. But what if George Bush pulled the impossible and got re-elected? This city and state needed an insurance policy. By endorsing Mr. Bush, Mr. Schaefer put himself in line for a bunch of return favors during a second Bush term.

And if Mr. Bush lost? Mr. Schaefer still could present his list of requests before the Republicans leave office. Such as approval of the USAir-British Airways deal so vital to the future of BWI Airport.

Besides, what was there to lose? Mr. Schaefer can't drop much lower in the public opinion polls. He can't lose clout in the General Assembly he never had. And in two years, he's out of office anyway.

My guess is that Mr. Schaefer reacted both as a conniving politico and a sympathetic friend of the president. But having committed this act of betrayal, as Democrats view it, he may have set the stage for a new lease on his political life.

He can run for mayor in 1995 as a Republican!

And win.

It could well happen. Not only would Mr. Schaefer get a second chance to revive the city he loves, but he could revive the city's moribund Republican Party, single-handedly re-creating a Baltimore GOP that would become a true counterweight to the majority Democrats. It would establish a much healthier political climate in the city.

The stage was set with Mr. Schaefer's crossing of the political Rubicon. If the Democrats don't want him, the Republicans can now warmly embrace him in 1995. They've got zero chance of winning any city election without him. With him, the Republicans might gain the mayor's office -- and all that patronage.

Mr. Schaefer could win any number of ways. He's still fondly remembered by most city residents as the man who got the city moving. If the city's sad decline persists and worsens, city voters might eagerly embrace this "miracle man" once again.

Or what if Kurt Schmoke tires of the mayor's job after eight years, or lands a high post in the Clinton administration or in the federal judiciary? Then Mr. Schaefer could sit back as a Republican and watch Mary Pat Clarke, Jackie McLean and Stuart Simms destroy one another. He'll have far more campaign money than any of these candidates, and a proven city campaign appartus. He'd be the candidate to beat.

So maybe Mr. Schaefer's pre-election action wasn't so loony after all. He may have fooled us all on this one. What a guy!

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun.

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