Schaefer without a Candidate

September 21, 1994

The defeat of Congresswoman Helen Bentley in her bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination leaves Gov. William Donald Schaefer without a favored successor. As late as election night, he dismissed Mrs. Bentley's triumphant rival, Ellen Sauerbrey, as a "completely negative" character but also declined to give his nod of approval to the Democratic primary winner, Parris Glendening.

So what is Governor Schaefer to do as the days dwindle down on a public career that started nearly 40 years ago? He contemplates a city election next year in which neither incumbent Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke nor his putative rival, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, meets his criteria for how to run the Baltimore he loves. And now, prospects for close rapport with the next governor have been jolted by Mrs. Bentley's loss.

Mr. Schaefer's automatic response to his feeling of being "an old has-been" probably lies in energetic pursuit of the ceremonial trappings of office, culminating in a last budget that may be ignored. This precludes involvement in the current election -- a hard pill to swallow.

If Mr. Glendening would put past differences aside and ask for a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Schaefer, the governor likely would respond with enthusiasm. Both believe in government activism, in contrast to Mrs. Sauerbrey's minimalist concepts, and could find much in common.

Looking down the road, Marylanders must wonder what life will be like for Mr. Schaefer after he leaves office. His election-night television appearances are a hint that news and political commentary may be his future -- and may, indeed, give him continuing influence.

Though there can be little doubt that in his fantasies he would dearly like to be mayor again of his beloved Baltimore (which more and more is his obsessive focus of interest), one has to wonder if he really wants to risk defeat or added racial tensions. This, despite his all-too-obvious unhappiness about the decline of the city.

His last budget, potentially an important transition asset for a Governor Glendening or Sauerbrey, is likely to urge continuation of current state aid to the city. But would either of his successors be interested? Mr. Glendening's home base is suburban Washington; Mrs. Sauerbrey's hallmark is her dislike of government spending. These are tough times for Don Schaefer. As they become even more painful in the next four months, he deserves the understanding of the citizens he served so long.

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