O'Malley missing the beat, no vision

A Conversation With: William Donald Schaefer

March 20, 2001

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, spoke recently over breakfast at Jimmy's Restaurant in Fells Point with Richard C. Gross, editor of the Opinion Commentary page. The discussion focused on events in the city and the state.

The battle for Memorial Stadium has been lost. What happens now?

You're right in saying it's lost. But it really never had a chance. I remember ... I asked the mayor (Martin O'Malley) to have a meeting with [developer] Janet Marie Smith and [Robert C.] Embry (of the Abell Foundation), [developer Bill] Struever and [planning expert] Ron Kreitner and he sat and listened for an hour. Then, all of a sudden, he looks up and says, "Well I'm giving it to GEDCO" (Govans Ecumenical Development Corp.).

So we had a fake meeting. Too bad. That was the greatest opportunity to have something good in the city of Baltimore in that section. And what it is now is subsidized housing. But I think the worst thing of all is they don't have the money yet. The YMCA doesn't have any money. You're going to have to get a bond bill. GEDCO is going to have to go raise more money. And it's the worst land use that I've seen. But then the lawyers were involved who had political influence. There was a lot of influence on [the stadium] that just didn't allow him to make a wise decision. So we'll see what happens.

Did O'Malley make a very big mistake?

Made a terrible mistake. It shows a lack of vision. Janet Marie Smith and Struever Brothers ... had real great plans that he (O'Malley) had seen, and he knew that they were right. But he just could not make that decision to change it from GEDCO to really being used.

What is so sad is there was an opportunity to have a vision. He could almost have likened it to the west side of Baltimore right now, where it is being redeveloped. This could have been a redevelopment area that would have benefited the northern part of the city. I've got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of petitions and letters in opposition to this [demolition].

How do you rate O'Malley's performance now that he's been in office for more than a year?

I'm not as enthusiastic as I was. Crime is up, the murder rate is up ... The city is not clean. Some of his people have made some decisions that showed complete lack of experience. Some of the things I've asked him to take a look at -- he didn't look at them, first of all. He gave them to his assistants and the assistants had no idea what they were all about.

Like what?

One was Mount Clare [the only surviving colonial mansion in Baltimore City's limits]. It was a very simple thing out at Mount Clare to save another historic spot. He didn't bother with that.

There was another one that I was very interested in that he just had no interest in at all and gave it to some people that didn't have any experience. I think you're beginning to see that the lack of experience of his staff is going to hurt him a little bit.

Some day he is going to have to make a decision: Am I going to be a showman or am I going to be a politician? He's got to make that decision. Right now, he is a combination of both.

He, himself, is very smart -- very smart, very quick. But when he makes some decisions, he hasn't given them the thought that he should give them. The stadium is a perfect example.

And how is Gov. Parris N. Glendening doing?

I have never seen a man who's [more] interested in promoting himself than our governor. Smart Growth, for example. It's a good thing, but he will not have any flexibility in it. People think he's a genius on this Smart Growth. Smart Growth was started before he came into office. He has promoted it and has done a good job on that.

He is letting things like the mental institutions go, the prosecutor's office needs money. But those are things that do not have high visibility. Visibility is Smart Growth, the environment. So he just doesn't bother with the things like the mental institutions. That's going to be a terrible thing in the future. If he doesn't put money in the budget for mental illness, like in the past when they cleared out the mental institutions [and] everybody was thrown out on the street with no follow-up, that's going to happen again. They are going to have to close mental institutions. It's going to be a sad day for Maryland.

And what about you? Are you going to run again?

I never predict what I'm going to do. There are so many things that you can run for. I'll tell you, this job of comptroller is not bad. It's a pretty nice job.

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