Schaefer enters great unknown at session's end

April 12, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

As the clock ticked toward closing time yesterday, William Donald Schaefer stared into the abyss. Nine months officially remain in his final administration, but not so anyone would notice, not as the clock approached midnight yesterday.

With the ending of the '94 legislative session last night, the governor of Maryland must now find a way to spend the rest of his life. For Schaefer, this becomes the great unknown. It's not merely that his whole career has been government and politics, constructing highways and filling potholes in alleys and battling the forces of evil as he perceives them. It's that these things have consumed his entire adult life.

"He's got no family but two old-maid cousins he never sees," a longtime Schaefer ally said yesterday. "He's got friends, but in his own mind, he's not sure if they're really his friends or they stuck around because he could help them. There's an emptiness in his stomach. He's got no plans. He would love the clock to stop before midnight."

For the last 90 days, the give-and-take of legislative politics has blocked Schaefer from peering too intently into the future. He had final projects he wanted passed and thus forced himself to deal with legislators as he never had before.

Some of it still galled him. He didn't think he'd have to beg legislators to get tough on cigarettes. He saw it as a moral crusade. After all this time, he's still finding out the way business is conducted when big money's at stake.

hTC Beginning this week, he'll get out of the office and begin breezing around the state. Here and there, various groups he's helped over the last eight years have tributes planned for him. Think of these as mental health offerings for a man who feels his life's work hasn't been fully appreciated.

When he's ventured into public the last few years, he's braced himself, not knowing if he'd be booed. You could see signs in his body language. When his old friend Peter Angelos asked him to throw out the first ball at the Orioles' opener a week ago, Schaefer's whole body seemed to unstiffen when there were polite cheers and only a few boos.

Then he walked to the mound with Angelos and Tom Clancy, and Schaefer looked like someone actually enjoying himself, like a kid who's delighted to have been picked by the big guys to take part in their playground game.

But whatever serious history the governor leaves behind has now been written. Whatever landmarks he leaves, they're now on the books. For the next nine months, there's no legislative package to push. He's a guy playing out the string. And, in January, he's got to create a private life where none has previously existed.

"He's gonna wake up tomorrow," says a Schaefer friend, "and he's gonna feel like Teddy McKeldin felt. When your full life is nothing but having power, and that's taken away, where do you go?"

Like McKeldin, who was both mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, Schaefer's gotten accustomed to a way of life that begins to vanish today. First, the serious business of government goes. Later, all the trappings.

"Face it," says this friend. "Schaefer was president of the City Council. He was mayor. He was governor. He hasn't had to drive a car for 28 years. He's had chauffeurs, and he's had police catering to his every whim."

The intent isn't to make him look unduly pampered. He's not built that way. But he's fashioned a certain lifestyle over the last -- three decades, which now begins to slip away.

Friends have offered suggestions: Get himself on a few corporate boards, attach himself to a prestigious law firm, do some traveling. He's patched up certain matters with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and had hopes of landing some sort of city job, a roving trouble-shooter sort of thing, but apparently there's no such opening. And the on-again, off-again relationship has apparently cooled in recent weeks.

"His real frustration," says one political intimate, "is that he can't help the city. He doesn't think anybody's capable of doing things he's capable of doing, but he can't get close to the action any more. So what does he do now?"

That's the big question facing Schaefer as he awakens today. The calendar says he has nine months left in office. But the clock struck midnight last night, and the real thrust of Schaefer's whole life began to turn.

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