Schaefer takes campaign to once-maligned Shore Candidate boosts tourism in Cambridge

Campaign 1998

October 27, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Venturing across the Bay Bridge in search of votes, state comptroller candidate and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer stopped to inspect one of the Eastern Shore's newest well bathrooms.

Schaefer -- who once compared the Eastern Shore to an outhouse in one of his most infamous and enduring political gaffes -- was checking the progress of a $2.8 million visitors center on the south side of the Choptank River bridge along U.S. 50 in Cambridge.

As governor, Schaefer pushed for the project, which is designed to lure beach-bound tourists away from U.S. 50 and into the town.

The visitors center, to include tourism offices and displays of Dorchester County attractions, is scheduled to open next month -- but without a 100-foot-tall fiberglass sail that had been planned as its visual signature.

Told that the $370,000 for the sail had been cut from the state budget, Schaefer urged local elected officials and business leaders to push for a combination of federal, state and Dorchester County funds to build the sail, so that drivers along U.S. 50 will notice the attraction.

"We don't want them to fly by and say, 'Oh, what a pretty place.' We want them to stop and spend money," Schaefer said.

"Got everything but the sail, gotta get that sail," he said, looking around the two-story visitors center with its commanding view of the Choptank.

The center is part of an overall plan to develop Sailwinds Park on the Cambridge waterfront. Officials hope the development will eventually include a restaurant, a small hotel and a boardwalk along the river.

Schaefer would prefer that Eastern Shore voters remember him for projects designed to spur the Shore's economy. But while visiting the center yesterday, it was Schaefer who brought up his "unfortunate remark" when talking to reporters.

"That remark, it was the most unfortunate thing," Schaefer said.

He still insists he was joking when he asked two Shore delegates, "How's that s----- of an Eastern Shore?" at a State House ceremony in 1991.

He said the only people who bring the remark up these days are people who don't like him anyway. "If people don't like you, they latch on to anything they can. I haven't heard it for a long time. It's been pretty good," he said.

A poll earlier this month showed that Schaefer's candidacy was not as popular on the Eastern Shore as in other areas of the state. Overall, Schaefer's lead was 57 percent to 28 percent over his Republican opponent, Larry M. Epstein. But Schaefer led Epstein by only 45 percent to 41 percent on the Shore.

His less spectacular lead on the Eastern Shore might have more to do with geography than with lingering resentment from the outhouse remark. Schaefer also led by a relatively slim 45 percent to 40 percent margin in Western Maryland, while he enjoyed the support of 78 percent of the voters in his home base of Baltimore.

C. Robert Spedden, a Cambridge real estate broker who has long worked with Schaefer on economic development plans for Cambridge's Choptank River waterfront, said some Eastern Shore residents recall Schaefer's remark. But he added, "I don't know anybody who's never made a mistake.

"He cares very much about the Eastern Shore," Spedden said at a reception he organized for Schaefer at McGuigan's Pub in downtown Cambridge.

At the visitors center, Schaefer toured the tourism offices, soaked in the view from its waterfront deck and looked over the bathrooms. He was asked if he saw any irony in his visiting an Eastern Shore restroom.

"No," he said, adding, "Everybody has to go to the bathroom."

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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