Schaefer team suits up for another election Campaign: Surrounded by his longtime cohorts, William Donald Schaefer listens to advice but speaks his mind and makes his own decisions.

October 16, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

William Donald Schaefer's closest advisers meet once a week in a quiet corner of a favored Little Italy restaurant. They order plates of clams marinara and spa chicken with rice -- fortification for a skull session with a famously mercurial political heavyweight.

"At those meetings, we strategize and he decides," said Gene Raynor, manager of the former governor's campaign for state comptroller. "He has yelled at all of us at one time or other."

For Raynor and the other longtime friends of Schaefer, organizing this political campaign stirs their competitive juices even as it rekindles their devotion to one of the state's most storied politicians.

The demanding Don Schaefer, long ago shed of any need or desire to sugarcoat an opinion or sit on an idea, is back for his first campaign in eight years. And so are his handlers, who wouldn't have him any other way.

"The thing about Schaefer is you know exactly what you're getting," said Nelson J. Sabatini, former secretary of the state health department and a member of the Schaefer campaign's steering committee.

"He was never satisfied with what he accomplished. He was that way in the city, and he was that way in Annapolis."

Four years after leaving the governor's mansion for a restless retirement, Schaefer is running to succeed longtime comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who died in July. It is a political comeback that none of his advisers expected, but for which all of them were prepared.

"It would be like quickly calling together an old sports team, in that everybody generally knows who plays shortstop, who's on first, who's the pitcher," said Robert C. Douglas, Schaefer's former press secretary.

Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of economic development when Schaefer was governor, added, "Even though we were shaking off a few cobwebs, we had a cadre of people who could raise money, deal with scheduling, deal with other political organizations and fall into it kind of naturally."

These advisers talk of loyalty that runs both ways, of being

motivated to strive for greatness.

They apologize for sounding corny, and then they say something like this, from Douglas: "People have felt as though their work with the governor -- and their work in the government under him -- was, if you will, a patriotic, selfless effort.

"People felt good about that, good about him, so they stuck with him."

To his Republican opponent, Larry M. Epstein, Schaefer's run for comptroller is anything but selfless. "He likes being in the public eye. But his heart is not in the job," Epstein said. "I'm not running because I'm bored."

Schaefer insists that he knows plenty about preserving the state's Triple A bond rating and other duties of the comptroller's job. He has been briefed by the interim comptroller and has found no need for an overhaul of the office.

He said his heart is in the race -- one he knows he could not be running without the Schaefer stable of counselors.

"Let's say my name was Bill Smith, and I decided in July I was going to run for comptroller. There is no way I could have mounted a campaign like we have unless I had a group like I have," he said. "I did a lot for them. They did a lot for me."

Some of these supporters go back to Schaefer's days as mayor of Baltimore. Many followed him to the governor's mansion. But his reign as governor ended before he or his advisers were ready.

"It was so final," said Lainy M. Lebow-Sachs, an adviser during Schaefer's days as mayor and governor. "It was done, finished, over."

While Parris N. Glendening was taking the oath as governor in January 1995, Schaefer was in Baltimore, upbeat but nostalgic during a quiet lunch at Dalesio's restaurant in Little Italy.

Schaefer's Cabinet and staff kept in touch at twice-yearly reunions, holiday parties and crab feasts at Sandy Point Park. Still, they never dreamed they would be gathering at Dalesio's to plot campaign strategy.

The group includes Lebow-Sachs, now an official at the Kennedy Krieger Institute; Zelig Robinson, the former governor's attorney; former state prisons chief and Baltimore police commissioner Bishop L. Robinson; and baking mogul and political fund-raiser John Paterakis. Also Douglas, now a lawyer at Piper & Marbury; and Wasserman and Sabatini, who are vice presidents at the University of Maryland Medical System.

Banker Edwin F. Hale is raising money for the campaign.

Orchestrating all this is Raynor, a Schaefer confidant who was the state's election chief.

Raynor and Schaefer frequently start the day by meeting for breakfast at Jimmy's Restaurant in Fells Point. When he's not at the Highlandtown campaign headquarters, Raynor can often be seen with piles of campaign paper at his favorite table at the Waterfront Hotel Restaurant. Meanwhile, the others spend their days in their offices, until they come together once a week at Dalesio's.

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