Schaefer's last battles may well be his fiercest

THE POLITICAL GAME

March 02, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

The scene repeats itself nearly every evening. William Donald Schaefer, grim, occasionally grumpy, at times bleary-eyed, departing the State House through the basement for the short walk to the Governor's Mansion across the street.

Rarely do you see a smile, though the governor's closest friends say he is not without humor. More often you see a man who seems to be carrying a heavy load, a burden all the heavier because before long he will have to lay it down.

Everyone, so it is said, has his or her vision of hell. For the governor, a dominant figure in the state for a quarter century, this may be his. He has unfinished business, in this instance having to do with football, and he will soon be out of a job.

From the day he became mayor of Baltimore in 1971, Mr. Schaefer has been a man with a different, more positive vision. He wanted to rejuvenate the city and restore a sense of pride to its residents.

Baltimore remained central to his vision of the state when he became governor in 1987. To his mind, a vigorous Baltimore would ripple through Maryland, a rising tide lifting all boats. Many critics have called that vision flawed, often deriding him as the governor of Baltimore rather than of the entire state. To many, Baltimore is no longer a powerful economic engine, instead a continuing drain on Maryland's resources.

Undeterred by the naysayers, Mr. Schaefer, in his final General Assembly session, is strongly promoting an ambitious legislative package, his bills ranging from welfare reform to gun control to aid to local governments.

At the heart of his strivings in these final days, however, is his fierce, Lear-like struggle to bring a National Football League team back to Baltimore to replace the Colts, who blew town in 1984, on his watch.

Some say Mr. Schaefer's efforts are aimed at redemption, that he believes the citizens of Baltimore will never forgive him for letting the Colts get away, at least not until he brings home another team.

That may be a case of over-analysis. There is no indication that a sizable portion of the city blames Mr. Schaefer for the loss of the Colts. The anger remains focused on owner Bob Irsay, who moved the team to Indianapolis.

Mr. Schaefer may well need a degree of personal vindication. But it seems clear that he hurts not so much for himself as for the city whose well-being has been the consuming concern of his public life.

The bait to bring an existing NFL franchise to Baltimore is the promise of a state-of-the-art stadium built with public money at Camden Yards.

Many legislators believe such spending is madness, that Maryland has far more pressing needs, especially in the areas of schools and public safety. But for the next ten months or so, Mr. Schaefer remains the state's chief executive. And in his view, Baltimore without an NFL team is akin to an amputee forever trying to scratch an itch where a limb used to be.

That being the case, no one, least of all Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who wants to shift his team to Laurel and keep any other team from moving to Baltimore, should underestimate Mr. Schaefer's determination to make his city whole again.

New party jobs

Both state parties have new faces in their top staff posts. The Democratic chair, Baltimore City Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, has promoted Shannon Mouton, 25, to the position of executive director. Ms. Mouton has worked for the state party since last May, first as director of administrative services, then as director of development. Previously, she worked for the Democratic Senatorial Committee and the Democratic National Committee. On the Republican side, Lance Copsey, 24, who has held several party positions over the past three years, most recently political director, has been elevated to executive director by the state GOP chair, Joyce L. Terhes.

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