The Schaefer Era in Maryland

January 08, 1995

"This isn't good enough." "Let's see something new." "That's not soon enough." "I'm not interested in what we can't do." "People deserve better." "Do it now."

These admonitions come from a 1986 campaign handout distributed by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who was running for governor. The sentiments, delivered thousands of times, tell us much about Mr. Schaefer. The drive and determination to succeed, to get workers to do better, to help people, to make life easier for folks NOW have been constant themes throughout his long political career.

In the 1950s, Mr. Schaefer surfaced as a freshman city councilman. In the 1960s, he rose to Baltimore's No. 2 elected post, city council president. In the 1970s, Baltimore voters made him their mayor. In the 1980s, Maryland voters made him their governor.

And now in the 1990s, Donald Schaefer gets ready to step down from public office. For the first time since 1955, he won't be an elected official. He won't have that enormous burden of running a city or a state. But he won't have the official power to come to the aid of distressed citizens, either.

No Maryland politician has been so dominant for so long. His 15 years as mayor will be remembered as a time of unparalleled rejuvenation. The Inner Harbor was re-born. Baltimore became a popular tourist destination, of all things. Neighborhoods reveled in the annual City Fair spotlight. People felt pride once again for their city.

TTC Those City Hall years marked Mr. Schaefer's zenith. He was hailed as the nation's best mayor. He did whatever it took to win aid for Baltimore, to make the bureaucracy responsive, to give the city a sense of movement and purpose. He proved a tireless motivator and a shameless cheerleader.

But what worked in Baltimore didn't bring the same results in Annapolis. Mr. Schaefer chafed under a power-sharing arrangement. One-man rule, he discovered, had its limits.

Midway through his two terms, he ran into a severe recession that devastated his plans for uplifting and transforming Maryland. He agonized over $2 billion in budget cuts. He despaired that he was running out of time to help people. And he lost touch with the sentiments of Marylanders who wanted less, not more government.

Yet he leaves office with solid achievements. The Camden Yards stadium. Tort reform. Higher-education reorganization. Light rail. Massive road-building. Gun-control laws. School performance and accountability standards. Health-prevention programs. A welfare job-training program. Health-care reform. Wetlands protection. An unprecedented tree-planting program. A regional compact to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Mr. Schaefer is no shrinking violet. His larger-than-life personality can be alternately endearing and enraging. But he cares deeply about people. That's the bottom-line for him. Helping people. You couldn't ask for more from a public servant.

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