Schaefer annoyed - past, present, forever

July 07, 2002|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,PERSPECTIVE EDITOR

WILLIAM Donald Schaefer, comptroller of Maryland, former governor and former mayor of Baltimore, has been seeing sinister plots against him from the beginning of time, which is about when he first got into politics.

The latest suspicion arises from the news that one of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's janissaries filed at the last minute to run against Schaefer for comptroller in September's Democratic primary.

This was John T. Willis, Maryland secretary of state, an essentially ceremonial position to which he was appointed by Glendening. When Glendening was Prince George's County executive, Willis was his chief of staff.

Willis and Glendening deny the governor had anything to do with Willis' decision to enter the race. But Schaefer doesn't believe it. And given the deep-seated hatred that Schaefer has for Glendening, it's hardly surprising that he is suspicious.

Calling the Willis entry a "Glendening trick," Schaefer told The Sun's Sarah Koenig: "I knew Glendening wasn't going to let me have a free ride."

Free ride? Why should Schaefer have a free ride? If he feels, at age 80, that he wants to be comptroller again, does everyone have to agree that it should be thus?

William Donald Schaefer has had quite a few nicknames in his long political career. One of them was Annoyed, as in Mayor Annoyed, because he always was annoyed.

Headline after headline pronounced Mayor annoyed at this, Mayor annoyed at that.

When Schaefer became governor, some called him Governor Annoyed, because he still acted annoyed. I haven't heard him called Comptroller Annoyed, but that's not to say he isn't still acting annoyed. He has been annoyed - to say the least - by Glendening since the latter was elected to the job Schaefer vacated only because the law required it.

He reached the height of his annoyance with Glendening when the governor stopped the water running in a huge fountain which Hilda Mae Snoops, Schaefer's girlfriend, had erected on the grounds of Government House while Schaefer was governor. Schaefer retaliated by outing Glendening's relationship with a top aide, Jennifer E. Crawford, who is now the third Mrs. Glendening.

Of course, Schaefer thinks Glendening put Willis up to it. What else would one deeply vindictive politician suspect of another?

The other, mostly forgotten, sobriquet attached to Schaefer was "Shaky."

This was given to him by the late Irvin Kovens, last of Maryland's political kingmakers. He made Schaefer, and he helped make Marvin Mandel governor, to name a couple of beneficiaries. Kovens went to jail with Mandel, but before all that he practically single-handedly got Schaefer elected mayor of Baltimore in 1971.

Kovens called Schaefer Shaky because Schaefer was so utterly overwhelmed by his own insecurities that he never thought he could win, and any sign of trouble made him shake - at least figuratively - with terror. One of these signs in 1971 was the announcement by Hyman A. Pressman, the incumbent, high vote-winning city comptroller, that he would be running for mayor.

Kovens took care of this one day by making Pressman essentially an offer he could not refuse. He bought him off by promising to pay all of his campaign expenses if he would go back and run for comptroller again, which Pressman did.

Schaefer's real opponent in that race was formidable, though. This was a highly respected lawyer named George L. Russell Jr., first black judge on the Baltimore Circuit Court, then known as the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, and the first black city solicitor.

As city solicitor, Russell was a member of the Board of Estimates under Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III. Schaefer, then president of the City Council, also was on the board. Russell liked to poke fun at Schaefer even before they had entered the mayoral race.

Where Schaefer had practically no interpersonal skills, Russell was gregarious, charming and witty. When he decided to run for mayor, he also had some big bucks backing him, including John Paterakis and Louis Grasmick.

"We were poor and pitiful," recalls a Schaefer aide who prefers to remain nameless. "We felt like Washington's troops at the Delaware."

Kovens saved the day. He had Schaefer run a better campaign, and Schaefer won the Democratic primary - which was tantamount to election - by 95,315 to 58,528.

Schaefer went on to three more terms as mayor and two terms as governor. Kovens drifted out of the picture, first to prison, then he was freed and died. And in one of the rare examples of Schaefer's ability to overcome old grudges, Russell's erstwhile supporters became Schaefer's biggest boosters, including Grasmick and Paterakis, who have done very well for themselves in the last three decades.

Now here Schaefer is, in what should be the last campaign of his career - although you can never be sure about Maryland comptrollers; they are like Mercedes cars which don't even start real life until after 200,000 miles.

No one expects that Schaefer could be beaten, especially by an opponent who is little known and has no discernibly threatening constituency.

But Schaefer's annoyed and sounding a little shaky. Just like old times. At the very least, the man is consistent.

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