The Schaefer legacy?

July 07, 2006

It is a sad thing to watch the self-destruction of an 84-year-old politician who meant so much to Baltimore for so many years. But the days of excuse-making are long since past. We can no longer dismiss William Donald Schaefer's tirades, his petty, misinformed and often incoherent soliloquies before the Board of Public Works, as merely Schaefer being Schaefer. This is no amusing quirk of personality, no unintended gaffe. This is calculated political theater, and its premeditation makes it all the more pathetic.

In a display that made even his most die-hard supporters cringe, Mr. Schaefer railed against the cost of educating immigrant children and Korean children in particular at this week's board meeting. His ire was provoked by a public school testing program that is financed by federal funds and required by federal law. Afterward, when he was questioned by Sun reporter Jennifer Skalka about why he objects to teaching English to non-English-speaking students, his response was to call her a "sweet little girl." And when asked if he would debate Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, a fellow Democratic candidate for comptroller, he said he "wouldn't debate her on how to bake a chocolate cake."

What is the purpose of such behavior? To remind voters of his irrational anger toward a McDonald's clerk with poor English language skills he publicly ridiculed two years ago? Or perhaps he thought the electorate had forgotten his videotaped "walk again" remark to a young female state employee, which transformed him into a national laughingstock earlier this year. Surely it is not the behavior of a comptroller who has filed for re-election, not one who wants to retain his office - or a respected legacy.

Polls suggest Mr. Schaefer is vulnerable this fall. He faces credible opponents in the Democratic primary. These bizarre State House episodes, Wednesday's deliberate demeaning of women and immigrants being only the most recent example, go well beyond the pale. People are openly wondering if Mr. Schaefer's health or mental state is sound. It's hard to blame them. What a tragic denouement to a remarkable career of public service. And what a shame that the rest of us must bear witness to it.

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