He was asked about his favorite time as a politician (as Baltimore mayor), how he wanted to be remembered (as someone who cared) and if he'd kindly show up at a jazz event (sure).
Then someone in the audience asked William Donald Schaefer whether he was registered as a Democrat or a Republican.
Schaefer, the Democratic ex-governor who has at times criticized current Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, made clear his disdain for Gov. Parris N. Glendening and even supported Republican George H.W. Bush for president in 1992, cupped a hand to his ear.
"I'm having trouble hearing," Schaefer, 85, replied jokingly, drawing laughs from a standing-room-only crowd yesterday at the Baltimore County public library in Pikesville. "I'll answer that a little later."
It's been more than eight months since Schaefer left public office after losing a re-election bid for state comptroller last year. The election defeat ended a 50-year political career that ranks as one of the most storied in Maryland politics.
Since his departure, Schaefer was a surprising no-show at the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City this summer. And he missed a scheduled appearance at an event at a Catonsville retirement community in July. (Organizers said he had another commitment.)
Schaefer said yesterday that he has remained active. He now spends three days a week working in the office of 1st Mariner Bank CEO Ed Hale. He frequently goes out to eat.
And, he said, he is open to any invitations to speak. His talk yesterday was the first in this year's Wednesday speakers' series held by the Friends of the Pikesville Library.
"It's a very relaxed life," Schaefer said, using the aid of a railing to stand, adding that physically, if not mentally, he was slowing down. "Age catches up with you. ... I'm a little weary in the legs."
Schaefer, who has made comments about women and immigrants that some considered offensive, seemed to make an effort to avoid polarizing statements during a 45-minute discussion before about 150 people.
Many in the crowd were from his generation, or slightly younger, and several thanked him for the actions he took during his four terms as mayor in the 1970s and 1980s.
At one point, he asked a woman to sing, and the whole room joined her in singing "America the Beautiful."
One man complained to Schaefer about crime in Baltimore and proposed a solution.
"I think we should go back to the whipping posts," he said, causing some gasps in the audience.
Schaefer quickly batted the idea down. "It ain't no solution, and it ain't going to happen," he said.
"What about slots? Are you in favor of them?" a woman asked.
Schaefer said only that he thinks slot machines will be legalized. He said in a brief interview after the session that he supported slots "because we need the money."
Someone asked him who he thought would make a good president.
"I had a little trouble hearing," Schaefer responded, and then moved on to the next question.
Schaefer happily answered questions about his four terms as Baltimore mayor. Asked if he had more fun as governor or mayor, Schaefer did not hesitate to reply.
"The happiest days of my life in politics was when I was mayor," Schaefer said. He recalled waking up early in those days and walking the city's streets, looking for any problems, such as debris.
"When I left, I didn't have to look anymore," Schaefer said, adding, "It was so pristine."
But he said he is worried about crime, adding that he occasionally visits the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore and sometimes fears for his safety. "I stay in the middle of the road because I'm nervous," he said.
He said one of the keys to effective leadership as mayor is having a strong relationship with the governor.
"When someone wants to become president of the United States, that's not so good," Schaefer added. It was not clear whether he was alluding to previous comments he has made about O'Malley, whom he has criticized because Schaefer thinks he is aiming for higher office.
Asked after the meeting if he would run for office again, he answered with an emphatic "No."
"I'm too old," he said.
One of the last questions from the audience came from a library official who asked how he wanted to be remembered.
Schaefer said he wanted his tombstone inscribed with two words: "He cared."