Schaefer's about to learn what it's like after it's over

Frank A. DeFilippo

November 04, 1993|By Frank A. DeFilippo

IT WAS an exquisite Schaeferian moment: At the 100-yard suck-up in Chicago last week, the governor of Maryland, William Donald Schaefer, delivered what the mayor of Baltimore, Kurt L. Schmoke, described as the best 1 1/2 -minute speech he'd ever heard.

How's that again? As most political rubberneckers know, it's taken 11 years of high anxiety for one to finally compliment the other, let alone travel halfway across the country in the same cramped corporate jet. Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Schaefer, the ebony and ivory of Maryland politics, appear to be bonding to the point where they're not only on speaking terms, but actually comfortable in each other's presence.

So just what, it is fair to ask, is happening between the hard-headed Mr. Schaefer and light-hearted Mr. Schmoke? To be sure, there are enough rumors and second guesses to go around, so take your pick.

For years the word bouncing up from the asphalt had it that the municipal snub by Mr. Schaefer originated when as mayor he boycotted Mr. Schmoke's swearing-in as state's attorney in 1982. The cold shoulder was said to have had something to do with the state's attorney's office budget.

To add spice to the variety, another rendition is that Mr. Schaefer was not angry at Mr. Schmoke at all, but simply furious at Larry Gibson, the mayoral puppetmaster, for providing legal representation to Roland N. Patterson when Mr. Schaefer was scheming (successfully) to have the late city school superintendent fired.

Fast-forward to 1993, and all of a sudden Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke are behaving more like Bartles and Jaymes than Beavis and Butt-head. Several weeks ago, for example, the two held a highly publicized meeting at City Hall that was followed by a photo-opportunity walking tour of the Inner Harbor. The point, in case anyone missed it, was that Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke actually wanted to be photographed together during what was billed as a city-state handshake to give impetus to downtown development.

That act of new civility was followed closely by Mr. Schaefer's turn-about on Mr. Schmoke's proposal for a municipal needle exchange program. Once adamantly against such a government-sponsored swap, Mr. Schaefer now says he'll support the mayor's idea under the watchful eye of the state health department.

But all of this strange, warm and fuzzy behavior is attributable to more than just a sudden attitude adjustment or exercise in guilt-tripping, and the word is that Mr. Schaefer is shopping around for something to do with his life after the Governor's Mansion.

At the recent Maryland Chamber of Commerce convention in Ocean City, the buzz was that Mr. Schaefer would like an appointment to a city post when he completes his two-term limit as governor. And according to the anonymous negotiant, Mr. Schaefer's actively lobbying Mr. Schmoke for a city job, paid or unpaid.

The first position conjured up by Mr. Schaefer was that of city manager, a kind of czarist post, accountable to no one, likened to the majesterial perch enjoyed by the late Henry Barnes when he was Baltimore's traffic manager at the turn of the '60s.

The second idea sent aloft by Mr. Schaefer, according to the deal's broker, is that he'd like Mr. Schmoke to appoint him as the international trade representative for the city, a free-lance ambassador who would roam the world looking for trade opportunities.

But there's trouble here. There usually is with well-intentioned but half-baked ideas. By all accounts, Mr. Schmoke's allowing his ear to be bent, but he's politely resisting the idea that he open his administration to Mr. Schaefer in the governor's after-life. And with sound reason.

One of the world's first political consultants, Niccolo Machiavelli, observed that "whosoever brings another to power loses power himself." Put another way, a smart politician never allows a second power center to develop.

So imagine, if you can, Mr. Schaefer, like a brooding Banquo, patrolling the corridors of the same City Hall he once inhabited, nagging the laid-back Mr. Schmoke to do this or that, unable to resist scolding municipal employees to "Do It Now."

And think, too, of Mr. Schaefer as roving trade representative, cutting international deals for the favored few, organizing the city's money and power bases right out from under Mr. Schmoke.

Also, would the same Mr. Gibson, who's so disdained by Mr. Schaefer, allow his charge to relinquish even a modicum of power or position to the ex-mayor/governor?

As the withdrawal symptoms begin, Mr. Schaefer's learning, the week of his 72nd birthday, that after 38 years in public office, it's tough letting go of yesterday.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes here on Maryland politics.

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