Subdued Schaefer sits silently for meeting


Two weeks after making national headlines for ogling a young woman, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer returned to the Board of Public Works and, in what might be a first for him in his 50-year political career, sat through a meeting without saying a word.

Schaefer, accustomed to the spotlight after decades on the Baltimore City Council and as mayor of Baltimore, governor and now comptroller, looked as if he wanted out of it yesterday.

At the board meeting two weeks before, he stared at a 24-year-old aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Elizabeth Krum, as she walked out of the room after delivering him a cup of tea. As she reached the door, he beckoned her to return. She did, and he told her to "walk again." As she left, he stared at her again.

At first unrepentant, Schaefer, 84, later sent the aide a letter saying he had not meant to make her uncomfortable.

Yesterday's meeting was held in the Goldstein Treasury Building instead of the State House because of a bond sale. Krum was not there, and the tea was waiting for Schaefer when he arrived in the room.

As he entered, Schaefer shouted out an apology to a television reporter whom he yelled at last month for questioning him about the Krum incident.

Once the meeting started, he didn't utter a word.

He skipped his usual monologue at the beginning of the meeting, a forum during which he has angered constituents by criticizing immigrants for failing to speak English and suggesting a statewide AIDS registry.

For the first part of yesterday's meeting, he appeared cowed, staring straight ahead with a dejected expression on his face.

Later, when an issue came up dealing with the Strathmore Music Center in Montgomery County, he put on his glasses, shuffled through papers and whispered into Ehrlich's ear.

He remained silent during a discussion of the state's Minority Business Enterprise program - a topic that got him in political hot water last year when he said at another public works meeting, "When does MBE end - E.N.D?"

Since he was elected comptroller in 1998, Schaefer has used the twice-monthly meetings as his bully pulpit. During Gov. Parris N. Glendening's second term, he frequently used the forum to deliver stinging criticisms of the chief executive.

He also tends to keep a sharp eye on the board's business and is usually the most aggressive inquisitor on cost overruns and high-priced contracts.

Board meetings routinely last hours, but with a silent Schaefer, yesterday's was over in 45 minutes.

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