Two old foes lay down arms Why now? A chance of a new city renaissance may help end the feud between William Donald Schaefer and Kurt L. Schmoke.

February 11, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich

It's all personal, every bit of business. They call it business. OK. But it's personal as hell. -- "The Godfather," Mario Puzo.

FOR KURT L. SCHMOKE and William Donald Schaefer, it didn't quite come down to business. It was personal. Always personal.

Personal to the point of sitting apart at black-tie dinners. Personal to the point of backing each other's opponents for office. Personal to the point that a stroll together through downtown Baltimore made front-page news.

Yet now, after 14 years of mutual disdain, the longtime adversaries are putting past quarrels aside. Just as their celebrated feud is fading into distant memory, the two men are talking about a rapprochement.

Mr. Schaefer, who hardly ever had a kind word for Mr. Schmoke, has been downright complimentary about his old foe. He credited the mayor with making all the right moves at the start of his third term. He announced the Advertising and Professional Club of Baltimore that he believes the city is on the move again. He even likes the hats Mr. Schmoke is donning these days.

If the conciliatory comments weren't unexpected enough, Mr. Schaefer went so far as to propose serving as an economic development adviser for the mayor. He even met recently with Mr. Schmoke's chief advisers, whom he has long distrusted: Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's political strategist, and Ronald M. Shapiro, the mayor's campaign treasurer.

"Hard to understand," said state Sen. John A. Pica Jr. with a chuckle. "I've never been in a room when they have kissed and made up. That whole relationship is too fickle for me."

What happened? Just a few months ago, Mr. Schaefer bluntly accused Mr. Schmoke of not doing the job as well as he did in 15 years as Baltimore's mayor. He called the city "in bad shape" and flirted with the idea of running for mayor.

Some suggest that Mr. Schaefer, 74, is looking for something to do, particularly in his beloved Baltimore, now that he is out of public office after 40 years. Others say Mr. Schmoke, 46, is more relaxed because he finally has moved out of his flamboyant predecessor's shadow.

Those closest to both men have perhaps the best explanation: The turnabout that has caught much of the political establishment off-guard comes down to business.

In his eight years as governor, even when relations between the State House and City Hall were the most strained, Mr. Schaefer always helped out his hometown. Money from Annapolis kept flowing to Baltimore for one high-profile project after the next -- the popular baseball stadium, the sleek Columbus Center, the expansion of the Convention Center.

Now downtown Baltimore appears to be on the threshhold of a new renaissance. More than a dozen attractions are being planned, from a children's museum to a major harborside entertainment and shopping complex. Mr. Schmoke also has overhauled his much-criticized economic development agency and appointed as its new director M. J. "Jay" Brodie, who worked for the Schaefer administration and is liked by many corporate leaders.

All this activity has a great deal of appeal for William Donald Schaefer, who guided Baltimore's transformation from a decaying manufacturing town to a tourism magnet during his tenure as mayor from 1971 to 1986.

"One thing that's for sure is the governor had a year to reflect, and he seems to be much closer to the city scene," said Mark Wasserman, who was Mr. Schaefer's chief of staff. "He has energy and passion to spare. I think he'd like to continue doing something for the city."

Said Gene M. Raynor, the state election administrator: "Schaefer's love of the city is stronger than his dislike of anyone."

Close associates of the mayor believe Mr. Schaefer mostly wants attention, but they agree that he is looking for a role in the downtown revitalization. "He sees a lot happening, and he just wants to be part of it," said Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing commissioner and a political confidant of Mr. Schmoke.

Both Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke say they are ready to start anew, although it is unclear exactly how they would work together. Mr. Schaefer says he would like to help coordinate economic opportunities and develop "a master plan for downtown." Mr. Schmoke is unsure about "any formal relationship" but wants to turn to his predecessor for advice more frequently.

Still, some who know both men wonder whether all the hostilities can be forgotten and forgiven.

They were at odds almost from the moment Mr. Schmoke was elected Baltimore's prosecutor in 1982 while Mr. Schaefer was mayor. Mr. Schaefer, the older, intense and street-savvy politician clearly had little patience for the much younger and polished Ivy Leaguer. Their relationship worsened while Mr. Schaefer was in Annapolis -- still yearning to manage the city and offering advice to his successor, who wanted to run an independent administration.

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