The Schaefer saga continues

Irrepressible veteran begins a new chapter in Annapolis this week

January 25, 1999|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In Highlandtown, he's Mayor. In Cumberland, he's Governor.

And in Annapolis, as William Donald Schaefer ends his restless retirement to become Maryland's first new comptroller in 40 years, nobody knows quite how to address him.

"What will we call him?" puzzled House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. "Probably, at least in public, I'll refer to him as Mr. Comptroller. Most of the time, though, I'll call him Governor, which is what I've always called him. Privately, I'll call him Don."

It's a dilemma that goes beyond etiquette.

This week, the 77-year-old Schaefer will return to the state capital -- and to the public life he reluctantly left after four terms as Baltimore's mayor and two terms as Maryland's governor. He will walk back into the State House, back to a high-ceilinged room where he once presided, and take a seat next to his successor, with whom he's had an off-and-on relationship.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening was on Schaefer's mind last week as he sorted mail in his new office, the library of the treasury building.

"He's got more money in one year than I did in four," Schaefer said, referring to the state's huge budget surplus. "You can do so much with money. You can reward people. You can make it difficult for people.

"He [Glendening] is over budget. But I don't blame him for that. If I were governor, I would be, too," he said. "What I will be doing now is to see that we don't spend everything we have and don't mortgage the state for the future."

In his new role as comptroller, Schaefer's main stage will be the Wednesday morning meetings of the Board of Public Works, the powerful three-member panel that includes the governor and state treasurer.

Judge Alan M. Wilner, now on the Maryland Court of Appeals, described it in a 1984 history as "almost unique in American government." The board must approve virtually all state contracts, worth billions of dollars each year.

It provides a window into the inner workings of state government -- and a check on the strong executive powers of the governor. There, two officials independent of the governor can block or delay administration-proposed spending that they consider wasteful or ill-advised.

Two governors on board

Just the notion of the former and current governors' having to work side by side has stirred speculation in political circles. Many State House observers foresee clashes and attempts at one-upmanship between the unpredictable, notoriously temperamental Schaefer and the bookish yet equally thin-skinned Glendening.

"We could certainly afford a tax cut if we just sold tickets to the Board of Public Works meetings," quipped Julian L. Lapides, a former Baltimore lawmaker who quit the comptroller's race last summer as soon as Schaefer entered.

Said Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel County Republican: "One thing is certain: A lot of people will be going to those meetings that never went before."

Even though they are both Democrats and share many views on public policy, Glendening and Schaefer are far from close friends.

A querulous history

Schaefer has often felt slighted by his 56-year-old successor. Glendening did not install Schaefer's portrait for two years, and practically ignored him in November 1995 when the National Football League returned to Baltimore, fulfilling a goal of Schaefer's.

When the state's popular comptroller, Louis L. Goldstein, died last July, Glendening picked another man for the job. Only after Schaefer made it clear that he would run, with or without the governor's support, did Glendening back him.

For his part, Glendening was frustrated during his re-election campaign by what he saw as tepid support from Schaefer. Beyond a few obligatory appearances, Schaefer spent little time with Glendening.

Still, both men say they've put past quarrels aside. They insist that they will work together, if not always in agreement, at least not as bitter adversaries.

"Everyone's talking about selling tickets and all that," Schaefer said. "I think they're wasting their time. They're going to be very disappointed."

Said Glendening: "Whether you agree or disagree with him, he [Schaefer] has always been extraordinarily respectful of the institution of governor and the state process itself. I think on occasion we'll disagree, but 99 percent of the time we'll be sailing along."

Beginning this afternoon, they will have ample opportunity to show off their spirit of understanding. Glendening will swear in Schaefer at 4 p.m. in a ceremony that is expected to be attended by hundreds. On Wednesday, another crowd of spectators is likely to show up for their first Board of Public Works meeting.

Standing room only

Schaefer's inauguration will be in marked contrast to the quiet ritual that took place every four years, for four decades, while Goldstein was in office. So many well-wishers want to be there that chairs are being removed from the House of Delegates chamber so that people can stand.

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