William Donald Schaefer leaves after a half-century of public service with a message to friends and foes

No regrets, no excuses

January 09, 2007|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporter

William Donald Schaefer says he is not sorry.

Not for saying one of his opponents dressed like Mother Hubbard. Not for gawking at a young woman's backside after telling her to "walk again" while the cameras rolled during a public meeting.

Two weeks before he leaves office at the end of a 50-year public career - done in, even his supporters say, by his own words and deeds - the former governor and Baltimore mayor is showing no contrition.

During an hourlong interview yesterday in his Annapolis office, not a tear gathered in the corner of an icy blue eye. Not a sentence began with "If I had it to do over ... "

"I do not feel that I owe an apology to anyone," said Schaefer, who was defeated in the September primary for comptroller.

The extent of Schaefer's confessions of sentiment ---- in an interview that was otherwise dedicated to blasting The Sun's coverage of him - were reserved for two men: the governor who leaves office with him this month; and Schaefer's replacement.

For one, he offered kindness. The other, spite.

Schaefer, an 85-year-old lifelong Democrat, had nothing but praise for outgoing Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. He called Ehrlich honest and said he "wasn't looking for another job."

"Good family," he said of the Ehrlichs. "No scandal."

And then Schaefer got frank. About that endorsement of a statewide Democratic ticket including Martin O'Malley, a longtime foe whose name he was reluctant to even mention during the campaign?

"I was for Ehrlich," he said.

As for Montgomery County Del. Peter Franchot, who defeated Schaefer in the three-way Democratic primary and went on to win the general election, Schaefer conceded that he had underestimated his rival.

Franchot, he said, was wise to target Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the two jurisdictions with the most Democratic voters.

But Schaefer added that he loathed losing to Franchot, who he said had "no record at all."

"It was my time to lose," Schaefer said. "When I first ran for office, I lost. So I lost coming in, I lose going out. That is sad. ... If there had been somebody really spectacular running, that would have been all right."

Schaefer took some, albeit limited, responsibility for the defeat.

"I did not run as hard," he said. "I took for granted that a lot of people knew me that did not know me."

Janet S. Owens, the former Anne Arundel County executive and third contender in the Democratic comptroller contest, was the target of Schaefer's Mother Hubbard comment. A remark that rankled women's groups, it was one of several incidents in the past year that made Schaefer the focus of negative local and national media attention.

He also told a young female aide to Ehrlich to "walk again" so he could watch her leave. The clip was played repeatedly on CNN.

"Now can't you find something else besides my looking at a girl walk?" Schaefer said yesterday when asked about the comment. "There's a war. There's famine over the world. There's tremendous hurricanes. All these things, and they pick up that I look behind a little girl that's walking out of the office.

"Every guy in the world looks at the backside of a girl. Now put that in there, quote [it]. Show me a man that doesn't look at a girl. I'd even look at you. Put that in, too."

Schaefer said his record - helping revitalize the Inner Harbor, among other accomplishments - should define his legacy. He hired more woman than his predecessors, he said. He was "fair with the blacks."

"You've never heard anything bad about my office," he said. "I've been in here almost 50 years, and nobody's ever accused me of any impropriety. They've never accused me of stealing. My judgment may not have always been right, my vision may not have always been right."

Schaefer sat in a white wing chair in a conference room in his Annapolis office yesterday. Throughout the conversation, he grimaced often, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms defiantly.

The comptroller complained that The Sun - his hometown paper - had long wronged him. "Never had a fair shot with any reporter up there," he said.

He claimed that his words have often been taken out of context - even though he artfully used the media to further his political goals for years. Remember the dip in the seal pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore?

Now in post-Watergate America, reporters are only after Pulitzer Prizes, Schaefer said.

"The Sunpaper is so wonderful, they used to be No. 1 in the United States," he said. "Now they're last."

Schaefer was not in the mood to talk about what is next for him. He said another bid for public office, however, is unlikely.

"Never can tell. Most likely no, but you never can tell," he said.

Having championed the construction of two stadiums in Baltimore, Schaefer perked up a bit when asked which team he would back in the playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts (who fled Baltimore when he was mayor) and the Baltimore Ravens.

"Everyone's for the Ravens," Schaefer said. "So I'm for the Ravens."

But after thinking a brief moment, he added a quiet word about the Colts famed former quarterback.

"There'll never be a Johnny Unitas, never in my lifetime," he said.

Fitting words from a legend himself.

jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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