Schaefer's words stir criticism

Remarks on immigrants, women draw comparison to Archie Bunker

July 06, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer rekindled controversy over his views on immigrants and his behavior toward women yesterday as he denounced spending to teach English as a second language and addressed a reporter who questioned him as a "sweet little girl."

The comptroller, who is seeking re-election, also ruled out debating his opponents in the Democratic primary. Of one of them, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, the former governor said he "wouldn't debate her on how to bake a chocolate cake."

Schaefer's comments during and after a meeting of the state Board of Public Works brought denunciations from advocates for immigrants and women's rights as well as from political opponents.

"As a Democrat I'm embarrassed by him. As a human being I'm embarrassed by him. He needs to step down now," said Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Montgomery County Democrat, after being told of his remarks about a Sun reporter and Owens.

Schaefer's remarks may have reopened two previous, self-inflicted political wounds affecting important Democratic constituencies.

In 2004, he offended immigrant rights groups by publicly complaining about a McDonald's worker whose English skills he found deficient. This year, he angered advocates for women when he conspicuously ogled a young woman's behind at a board meeting and told her to "walk again."

Donald F. Norris, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Schaefer "loses votes every time he opens his mouth" but probably retains enough political strength to win a competitive primary - for now.

"He would have to make a number of gaffes between now and the primary to lose it, but if he keeps it up he could do it," Norris said. "Many, many people view his behavior as calculated. ... Many others say he's lost it. And it's hard to know which is true."

Schaefer's statements yesterday came as the board considered a $2.4 million contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill to test the proficiency of children in grades K-12 learning English as a second language. According to the board agenda, the cost would be paid entirely with federal funds. State education officials explained that the testing was necessary to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law.

But the comptroller was not satisfied. Instead, he fixed on the question of whether Korean children would benefit from the program.

"Korea's another one, all of a sudden they're our friends, too, shooting missiles at us," he said. North Korea tested missiles this week; virtually all Korean immigrants are from South Korea.

Nevertheless, Schaefer warned that someday "we'll pay" for opening borders. "I get so irritated that we just open up the borders, let everybody in, educate them," he said.

When the time came to vote on the agenda that included the item, the comptroller said something inaudible. Sheila MacDonald, the board secretary, said she understood him to be voting "yes" along with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, sitting in for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. Neither Steele, a Republican, nor Kopp, a Democrat, commented on Schaefer's remarks.

Questioned after the meeting, Schaefer, 84, reiterated the views he expressed in 2004, which at the time were amplified by Ehrlich, who described multiculturalism as "crap."

"People should speak English in Maryland and the United States. I strongly suggest that. If you are going to come to our country, you are going to be required to speak English," he said.

Further pressed by reporters, Schaefer focused his attention on Jennifer Skalka of The Sun's State House bureau, saying "she's never been nice to me." When Skalka said she had, Schaefer retorted: "Oh yes you have. You're a sweet little girl."

He then put his hands over his mouth and added: "Oh, my God, what I said. Boy, that'll be a Sunpaper editorial."

When Skalka pressed him about whether he objected to the expenditure of public funds to teach non-English-speaking children, Schaefer declined to answer directly and told the reporter "you're a nice-looking little girl."

Over his more than 50-year political career, Schaefer has made a habit of referring to women - including some of his closest female associates - as "little girls." He has also used the expression toward men.

As times have changed and views of the role of women in society have evolved, Schaefer has maintained his form of addressing them - even after other political figures have publicly objected.

Schaefer's opponents in the Democratic primary quickly pounced on his remarks.

Montgomery County Del. Peter Franchot said the comptroller's "Archie Bunker-like routine" raises "serious doubts about his mental and emotional fitness" for the office.

"The office of comptroller is clearly in the hands of someone who is not in control of himself, and it's time that he be held accountable," Franchot said.

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