The wrong crown on prince of quirks is a royal outrage

MICHAEL OLESKER

September 19, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Somewhere up in New York City is a Walter L. Updegrave, who should mind his own business. Updegrave wrote a piece for the new issue of Money magazine, picking on William Donald Schaefer. Around here, we don't like people from New York City picking on our governor. If anybody's going to pick on Schaefer, we feel it should be us.

Also, we feel it should be fair.

Walter, Walter, where do you come up with such things? In a piece titled "Stately Splendor: How Our Governors Live It Up," Updegrave digs his own grave. Call William Donald Schaefer irritable, call him temperamental, but don't call him something so wrongheaded as "the most pampered prince of perks," because it makes you and your magazine look like you added a bunch of figures and completely missed the man.

The governor's $120,000 salary? Walter, Walter, there are scores of people in Maryland government who make more than the governor, and he runs the entire state. Heck, there are 90 people at the University of Maryland who make more than Schaefer, and some of them don't even run an entire department. At $120,000, Schaefer may make a few grand more than other governors, but it's about one-tenth what people of his stature can make in private industry.

Stately splendor of the governor's mansion? Walter, they practically had to put a gun to Schaefer's head to get him to move in. He slept at his old West Baltimore home through his entire first term, before they forced him to live in Annapolis.

The governor's expensive yacht? It was there long before Schaefer, and he hasn't used it in two years. Before that, he used it once with some housing officials and once with some business executives, and not at all for personal use.

The sky box at Camden Yards? He's used it maybe half a dozen times each season, usually to entertain people who can help the state of Maryland.

Money magazine claims Schaefer's pay, his pension and his perks are worth $2.3 million a year. That includes $700,000 for the mansion he didn't want, $159,000 for the yacht he doesn't use -- and $1.2 million for state troopers who provide his security.

Keeping him alive is a sign of pampering him? "They get death threats," one veteran state official was saying Friday, the morning after Money magazine and ABC-News' Prime Time double-teamed the governor over such expenses. "We live in a crazy time. When somebody loses a job, they think it's funny to call the governor and say they're gonna blow his head up.

"You remember that last game at Memorial Stadium?" this official added. "Schaefer was gonna go. He was in this restaurant

having lunch, when the state police came in and said, 'We have a threat from a guy on Light Street who says he's gonna get you at the stadium.'

"The police said, 'We can't protect you in that kind of a crowd.' So we went to the man's house, and his wife came to the door and said, 'He left. He said he was gonna kill the governor.' So Schaefer couldn't go. Listen, he hates all that police protection. But we live in tough times for any politician."

To call such protection of Schaefer's life a "perk" is to pervert the term. But it characterizes the entire magazine piece, which analyzes the money but misses everything else.

Elitist lifestyle? Didn't anybody check out Schaefer's lavish weekends? He's legendary for spending them in alleys, checking for pot holes and trash collection. When he really parties, he goes to Ocean City to fish. He used to have a trailer there, but finally sold it and bought a condominium with two small bedrooms, a tiny kitchen and a small living room. It's on the bay side.

When he dines out, he pays. He's famous for going to McDonald's. He can't pass the Tastee Freeze in Easton without stopping in. He gets $8 haircuts, which he pays for himself. When he went to bond-rating houses in New York recently, he slipped away for an hour to look for those street vendors offering three neckties for $10.

Yeah, he's Mr. Lifestyles-of-the-Rich-and-Famous. Walter, Walter, did you have any sense of this when you wrote about Schaefer? Did you understand anything of the man when you added up the figures?

"The man?" Updegrave said Friday, from his New York office. "Yeah. A certain wackiness, right? The seal-pool thing. Taking the state police car to that guy's house who wrote him a letter. The gun-control hearing, where he picked up a gun. Of course, that went beyond wacky."

Oh, please. Those things are old, and well documented, and have nothing to do with the theme of this story, which is about Schaefer having the most lavish lifestyle of any governor in the country.

"We're just trying to point out how much it costs to keep him in office," Updegrave explained. "We just wanted to say what the various governors' budgets are, and what the benefits are. He's the governor, he gets the benefits."

Walter, Walter. You call somebody the "prince of perks," you've attacked him personally. You call him "pampered," and you talk of a "lavish lifestyle;" you've made him look like a parasite.

Parasite, he's not. Cranky, sure. Short-tempered, no question. But this guy's been around a long time without anybody suggesting he's making a personal killing. Schaefer's got enough trouble dealing with people who know him well, without strangers piling on.

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