Edifice Complex

July 26, 1994

Five hundred years from now, when archaeologists of the late 25th century dig among the remains of present-day artifacts, they may be struck by the strange Cult of Personality that seemed to have dominated one region during this period: the Schaefer Tower, the Schaefer Institute, the Schaefer Center, Schaefer Circle, Schaefer Plaza, Schaefer Promenade, Schaefer House, Schaefer Hotel, Schaefer Hall, Schaefer Terminal, Schaefer Building, Schaefer Bridge.

No, this isn't North Korea the archaeologists are revisiting, but our own Maryland, where cheerleaders and friends of Gov. William Donald Schaefer have gone overboard in plastering government buildings and even street poles with the name of their leader while he is still very much in office. It is an edifice complex the likes of which has never been seen in this state.

But the governor's sycophants aren't alone in worshiping living officeholders. There's the Louis L. Goldstein Treasury Building, where the venerable state comptroller of that name continues to hold sway. There's the Maryland National Guard's Camp Fretterd, named not for a famous military hero but simply the current adjutant general. There's the Frederick C. Malkus Jr. Bridge over the Choptank River, named for a long-serving state senator whose only renown is his longevity.

This is an inane policy that feeds primarily on ego and the efforts of those seeking to curry favor. No building or even a street corner should be named after a current officeholder. It is unseemly. It reeks of hero worship and apple-polishing. It is undemocratic. It is un-American. What if history later shows one of these people to be dishonest or proves to be a minor figure in the development of this state? Should we strip the name off buildings and street poles?

The same trend can be seen on the federal level, where too many post office buildings and courthouses have been named for incumbent legislators or retiring or just-defeated legislators who happen to have friends in high places. One almost-indicted congressman got a local courthouse named for him. What an embarrassment.

The only sensible policy is to wait a decent interval after a person has left public service and has departed this life. Then -- and only then -- can posterity make a proper evaluation on the importance of a figure in Maryland history. For now, let the buildings remain nameless, and streets retain such quaint names as Oak and Elm and Main.

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