Fitting Finale

After The Other Speakers Had Their Say, Of Course, Schaefer Would Want To Get In A Word Of His Own

November 03, 2009|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

Wait a minute, where in the ceremony program did it say Schaefer speaks?

No where, but no matter. William Donald Schaefer was going to speak. He was going to slowly get up to the lectern and speak to the crowd of more than 1,000 at the Inner Harbor on Monday that had already heard from one of his longtime aides, from Gov. Martin O'Malley, from Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, from the artist who created the bronze Schaefer statue that was being unveiled - from everyone but him.

Schaefer, who turned 88 Monday, had been wheeled onto the podium with all the dignitaries by Lainy LeBow-Sachs, his aide since he was mayor of Baltimore and helped make the Inner Harbor possible. He sat there through all the glowing tributes to a half-century of public service, applauding in spots and leading a cheer when his name was first mentioned.

Clearly the former city councilman, mayor, governor and state comptroller wasn't going to just sit there like a statue, as they already had one standing inside the four-sided tent made of the city and state flags. It's taken years to get the statue done, as first one financier dropped out to be replaced by construction executive Willard Hackerman, who put up about $500,000 for the statue and the Schaefer Sculpture Garden in which it stands.

After all the scheduled speakers had taken their turns, after the Morgan State University choir had sung and the Baltimore City College High School band had played "City Forever," after the four cannons had blasted confetti into the air, a giant construction crane raised the tent and let that bronze Schaefer step out in the bronze Jos. A. Bank suit and the wingtip shoes.

It was not the Schaefer of today, the artist, Rodney Carroll, told the crowd. This was more the Schaefer of the 1980s and '90s, "a composite of the man," he said, from the days when he was mayor and governor, racking up some of the accomplishments listed on five pages of a giant display pad up there on the podium - Inner Harbor, light rail, Center Stage, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, National Aquarium, and so on - the same sort of giant pad Schaefer would use to harangue staff at Cabinet meetings.

The bronze Schaefer bolted to the low marble base strides forward with the left leg, the left hand raised to wave at a face in the crowd, the right hand clutching a sheet marked "Mayor's action memorandum No. 11221. Subject: Have you helped someone today? DO IT NOW" and signed "Schaefer."

This was the essential Schaefer who had been profiled in Esquire magazine in 1984: "Mayor Annoyed," an obsessive executive in love with his city, chasing down abandoned cars, potholes, trash in the alleys. Written by Richard Ben Cramer, the story opened with a prescient question: "How will they ever make a statue of him? They'll have to, you know. He saved the town."

Carroll had never read the story, nor did he follow Cramer's advice to show the mayor in one of his customary fits of pique, terrorizing his staff. Carroll said he studied photographs and film and even had Schaefer, who lives in the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville, come to his studio in Pigtown so he could measure the "bone structure," as he put it.

"He's such a character, he could easily be portrayed in a larger than life, cartoonish situation," said Carroll in an interview later. Instead, Carroll told the crowd, "I wanted to keep the sculpture accessible for people to come up to it."

The pentagonal plinth is no higher than the first marble step of a Baltimore rowhouse, and indeed people were walking up and standing next to the figure to get a closer look or pose for photographs.

"I would say it's an excellent likeness," said Pamela Semies, snapping a picture, remembering how City Council President Schaefer intervened on her behalf when the principal of her high school withheld her diploma because she passed on the graduation ceremony to attend a prom. "He's extending himself, as he always did, for the people," she said.

Bronze "Willie Don" was drawing a crowd, but the actual Schaefer was not about to be upstaged by some effigy. The confetti had barely settled on the pavement when he rose from his chair and stepped forward.

"I'm only going to take two minutes because I saw someone yawn," he said, looking out into the crowd, the voice weak but the Schaeferian touch undiminished. "I used to yawn when I listened to you, too."

Perhaps people were looking for his name in the program of speakers. No dice. LeBow-Sachs later said she was a little anxious when Schaefer rose to speak, but she knew the plan was to leave him off the program because "we didn't want the pressure" of a public appearance, in case he did not feel up to speaking.

He did. But how much? Perhaps Schaefer sensed fear in the crowd, because after a few pleasantries, he said, "Thank you for allowing me to take these next 30 minutes."

In a day devoted to celebrating his time on the public stage, Schaefer, in the end, actually took less than five minutes of stage time. Later he said he was grateful for the tribute. The statue was "exactly what I had hoped," he said, kidding about how the program was arranged.

"I'd have been mad if they didn't call on me," he said. "And they didn't."

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