Not on ballot, Schaefer's still in the game PRIMARY 1994

September 14, 1994|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Writer

On this primary day, with the name William Donald Schaefer nowhere on the ballot, the governor of Maryland took himself to his traditional election morning breakfast at his traditional Little Italy coffee shop.

"Governor," Suzanne Black called out from behind the counter at Iggy's, as Mr. Schaefer strode in alone. "Where are all your troopers and everybody?"

"Eh," the governor said briskly without looking up from the menu. "I'm just an old has-been."

After nearly 40 years in elective office, including 15 as Baltimore's mayor and the past 8 as governor, William Donald Schaefer was no longer a candidate.

His day was filled with gubernatorial duties as well as his political rituals. And so he came back to Iggy's on Eastern Avenue.

There used to be a crowd. On election mornings going back 25 years, Mr. Schaefer would sit and trade political gossip with his cronies, handicapping the races, predicting voter turnout.

Baltimore's old public works director, the late Marco "Buddy" Palughi, would be there, Mr. Schaefer said, and so would former City Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro, dead just last month. Yesterday, they were ghosts of elections past.

If he was feeling at all wistful on the day a cluster of candidates was competing to succeed him, Mr. Schaefer, 72, didn't show it.

"It's no different," he said. "I'm still in it." But his tenure is nearly over and he uses an almost clinical phrase to describe its end. "I know the termination date is coming quickly."

His primary-day schedule was heavy: Voting early, breakfast in Little Italy, meetings all morning at his Baltimore office. After lunch, he and an aide drove around the city, visiting some of the polling places he's traditionally visited, to chat with workers and check on the turnout.

He'd been making those rounds on election day since 1971, he said, with his great friend Mr. Palughi, who died in 1986, the man Mr. Schaefer relied on to keep the city streets clean. "I would call him and say, 'The city's a mess. What's the matter with you?' "

Mr. Palughi, who lived right across the street from Iggy's, was the organizer of the gathering. "Then Palughi and I would ride around to the precincts in the city," Mr. Schaefer said. "It was just a real happy occasion."

The waitress delivered the governor's breakfast: scrambled eggs and Italian sausage, which he drizzled with ketchup. He pointed to the cholesterol-heavy plate. "I never eat this but on this day," he pronounced. "Too much fat."

He ate and talked about his tenure as governor. He won't miss the legislature, he said. "You work around them. You don't pay any attention to them."

Avoiding the questions

Who will Mr. Schaefer support in the general election? He's proven unpredictable in the past. In 1992, Mr. Schaefer, symbolic chief of Maryland's Democratic party, endorsed the GOP's George Bush for president. Whom will he support in November?

Mr. Schaefer smiled in the direction of his press aide, Joe Harrison. "This is what's known as the Schaefer-Avoiding-The-Question technique," he said in an aside. "Observe closely."

Then he turned back to his questioner and said in a prim sing-song: "I can't say what I'm going to do because I'm not sure yet who won the election. Once I have that information, I think I'll be better prepared to decide."

He looked back at Mr. Harrison and assumed his natural voice. "I'll alert you when I'm using the technique," he said.

Mr. Schaefer has learned how to handle those questions. He's been at it a long time.

His name first appeared on a city ballot in 1950, when he ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates. In 1954, he lost another close race for the House. But, in 1955, he won his bid for Baltimore's City Council. And for the 39 years since, he has been a political fixture.

Monday night, the governor slept at the mansion in Annapolis. He rose before dawn yesterday for the drive to Baltimore so he could vote at his home precinct, St. Bernardine's Church on Edmondson Avenue, the only place he's ever voted.

He arrived at the church in a charcoal-gray suit with a fine stripe, a bright tie held in place with a State of Maryland tie clasp inscribed with his signature.

No predictions

He declined to predict any winners. "I can't judge elections. I'm just an average voter." But he sounded the themes he's used throughout his career.

Mr. Schaefer allowed he was worried about what would happen to Baltimore should a candidate from the Washington suburbs win the general election. He did not mention the Democratic candidate, Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, by name.

"Yeah, there's concern," the governor said. "Baltimore needs special treatment. We put a lot of money in here. A lot of money. And I got criticized for it. It you don't keep it afloat, it will be a burden."

Then Mr. Schaefer walked down stairs into the church basement. "My name is Schaefer," he told the election judges.

He entered a voting booth and closed the curtain. The television camera lighted up the drapes as the governor made his choices.

What would he be doing after he leaves the State House? The governor, never fond of newspapers, had an answer. "I may become a Sunpapers reporter," he said mockingly. "I'm going to take a course in negative reporting. And then I can work at the Sunpapers."

Or luck might smile on him. Before he left Iggy's, Mr. Schaefer bought five Lotto tickets for today's $4 million jackpot, and another five for Saturday's drawing.

At day's end, he tried something new. Mr. Schaefer was off to Baltimore's television stations to offer comments on the candidates vying to succeed him.

He planned to watch the returns and go to sleep, he said. He didn't expect to attend any celebrations. "I'm not going to be up all night. Why should I?"

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