Part II: Playing on a Bigger Stage
Baltimore – In 1985, I returned to Baltimore only to realize the Mayor was still William Donald Schaefer. I’d given up on journalism and turned my hand to business. There was a buzz in the air that downtown interests wanted Mayor Schaefer to become governor. The governor who was as popular as ever said publicly he had no intention of seeking this higher office.
Schaefer had received a substantial amount of state funds for infrastructure (Baltimore Convention, World Trade Center etc..). The mayor was able to write the rules for federal block grants. Because Baltimore was an early adopter of these federal funds they came in as “demonstration projects.” This allowed the Mayor to leverage federal funds against state funding. With the help of Governors Marvin Mandel and Harry Hughes, Baltimore received record amounts of funding. Around the state jurisdictions were wary and became jealous. In 1986, there were questions if there would be a friendly Governor to continue the Baltimore Renaissance.
In Maryland Public Television’s, Citizen Schaefer, we learned the governor was told by his supporters he’d have to go to Annapolis to ask for help from presumed gubernatorial nominee Stephen Sachs. Sachs, the Attorney General of the state, was the odds on favorite to win the Democrat nomination to be governor. The Attorney General was the exact opposite of the Mayor. Sachs was the smooth talker, while Mayor Schaefer was rough and gruff.
While the Mayors popularity had peaked a couple years prior to this, his negatives were at an all time high. According to Columnist Wiley Hall who appeared regularly on talk shows, he had worn out his welcome with blacks it was time to “let the Brothers takeover.”
Schaefer likely told his minions he needed convincing. It began with a unique Schaefer idea; let’s tour the state to see if there is any ground swell. Using a bus call “Schaefer Express” he hit the highways of Maryland. This was an unofficial tour. It allow him to skirt election rules. It also made the Mayor a target for media types. Everywhere he went the question was, “Are you running for Governor?”
The tour took the wind out the Sachs for Governor campaign which was official. To change the conversation Sachs named Congressman Parren J. Mitchell as his running mate. Congressman Mitchell like most of his family wasn’t a fan of Schaefer. Knowing this Black discontent with the Mayor, Sachs hoped to tap into the rage of Baltimoreans.
The Lieutenant Governor’s job in Maryland was a new phenomenon. It was put in place with no duties. The idea grew out of the Governor Marvin Mandel scandals. There was no logical successor in the state if and when the governor died or had to step down. The legislature in its wisdom created this second post, but decided not to give it any power.
Hall continues to observe “the second guy on the ticket never wins and elections.”
Schaefer the candidate was even shrewder. He didn’t put out position papers and he refused to debate. His poll numbers showed a commanding lead over Sachs. Things almost came undone however during a typical question and answer session with the press. He was asked his thoughts on the Eastern Shore. He flippantly called it the states outhouse. This comment would haunt him despite apologies.
When he won the election he came in with same gusto he had done in Baltimore. Baltimore is very much a strong mayoral system. The tables were turned in Maryland legislature. He tried to strong the legislature and had to pullback. When he finally learned the ropes he began to put forth bold ideas again.
He introduced the new lottery game Keno, he gets the legislature to build a new Bay Bridge, he finances construction of a new sport facilities (Camden Yard) through a lottery game, and creates the “Maryland is Beautiful Campaign for tourism.” John Wesley, who was city employee, also reminds me Schaefer was also able to leverage state funds to build two of the state’s most important roads, Route 100 and 97. The later cut the trip from Annapolis to Baltimore in half. The Governor’s popularity couldn’t have been much higher.
A Storm at an HBCU
The Schaefer administration began to streamline government. One idea which seemed good at the time was to put all of the state’s colleges under one agency. The idea was to have one entity to lobby for funding instead each of school separately asking for funding.
The idea was moving swimmingly until a group of students at Morgan State University in 1990 began protesting conditions at the school. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t have been an issue, accept after a month long strike the leader of the protest, Travis Mitchell upped the ante and went on a hunger strike.
Mitchell was an unlikely leader. He had been the student Editor of the Spokesman, the student newspaper. He was able to rally students whose activism had been questioned. The Morgan administration was initially ambivalent to the protest. According to Mitchell, “We realized that the ultimate goal of the protest was to negotiate with the key decision maker in the state… the protest was not a referendum on -- or a reflection of -- the leadership of Dr. [Earl] Richardson (Morgan President), rather it was about historic underfunding for Morgan and what could be done to immediately redress past injustices and inequities.”
A number of leaders of the city began to feel empathy for the students. The heavy hitters in Black political circles tried to mediate the crisis, Baltimore Mayor Schmoke and Congressman Kwiesi Mfume met with the protesters in hopes of ending the crisis.
“We did not realize that we would directly engage with Governor [William Donald] Schaefer so early on in the process, but we were hoping to do so. His reaction was mixed. Initially, he was digging in his heels to take a hard-line approach toward removing us from the building (our peaceful sit-in at Truth Hall) through the use of the National Guard.” Advisers to the governor told him not to take this action. “Overtime, he (Schaefer) began to engage in direct dialog with student leaders which … we wanted.”
Those negotiations were tough. Remind yourself, this is a 19 year old college student going “toe to toe” with states chief executive. Mitchell and his cohorts were able to get the governor to agree to additional capital improvements on the campus. The governor would make a visit to the campus and see for himself the problems.
Morgan still exists outside of the University of Maryland system and its improvements include refurbishing of many of the dorms, construction of new buildings including Engineering, a new student center, new football stadium, a dorm, and the construction continues to this day(the second wing of the engineering building will be name for Schaefer).
In circumspect, Mitchell can reflect on those times, “Governor Schaefer remained a catalyst for the capital improvements on Morgan's campus. He honored his word and his commitment and followed it up with action. His legacy in that regard can be seen on campus today as evidenced by the total renovation, expansion and beautification of the university…Unlike any other professional experience in my life, the weeks, months and years that I spent as a student leader in the movement was by far the most challenging, risky and rewarding.”
Mitchell would eventually graduate from Morgan. On commencement day he would receive a rare honor, the William Donald Schaefer Award for Outstanding Student Leadership. Mitchell confided in me he wasn’t a fan of the Governor initially, but he understood what he brought to bear on making Morgan the university it is today. As he continued to wax about this period in his life, “that award seems to represent the paradox that was the man.”
(I’ve posted a Q and A and timeline for Travis Mitchell)
Payback is a B
The late Governor has always had his moments sometimes with a flair others with a thud. If there was ever a time when it seemed Baltimore and the state were going to hit a home run it was during the wooing of the NFL.
When the Baltimore Colts left town, Schaefer made it point to get them or another team back. He had used the state’s lottery system to keep Major League Baseball and used the same idea to create an authority which would oversee the construction of a stadium to get a professional football team back to the city.
There were a lot of questions from the NFL about Baltimore, and even several NFL franchises toyed with city (The Cardinals). The fan base was here despite being in close proximity to Washington, DC. The thing which seemed to be key was a new idea, seat licensing. A seat license was a novel approach to raising revenue. In order to purchase tickets to a game you just couldn’t be a season ticket holder you had to purchase a license in order to buy a ticket. The license was $1000. This money would essentially be in escrow and for the taking. Essentially, Baltimore was waving dollar signs at the NFL.
The NFL had policy of not adding teams to the league, but cities began clamoring for teams. The NFL owners decided in 1994 to expand the league by two teams with play to begin in 1995. As many as four cities were vying for those spots. Included were two cities which lost NFL franchises, St. Louis (Cardinals move to Phoenix), and Baltimore. There were also two new cities Jacksonville, and Charlotte. Each city made their case. Joining Schaefer in the presentation was Baltimore’s first elected Black Mayor Kurt Schmoke. Schmoke and Schaefer were the equivalent of the odd couple. The mayor had beaten the governors handpicked successor Clarence “Du” Burns. As the Schmoke tells it, “we were cordial, but never really clicked.”
When the NFL picked Jacksonville it seemed all of the wind was once again sucked from Baltimore. In later years The NFL Commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, was asked by a Baltimore reporter if the city should continue its efforts to get a franchise; the commissioner in an offhand way said, “maybe the city needs to build an opera house instead.”
Schaefer would end his two terms as governor with enormous amount of goodwill in the state, but he couldn’t claim the prize as bring football back to Baltimore.
Out of Office, Out of Mind
During his second term the Governor was incensed in winning his re-election by 77 percent. The governor thought the margin of victory should have been higher. Cartoonist KAL of the Baltimore Sun and Dan Rodericks began poking fun at the Governor in the states most read newspaper. Hall also had his share diatribes, but he says it really became hilarious when the Governor went to the Washington Post Newspaper and berated the Editor about this columnist named Wiley Hall. Hall found out about the rant when he received a call from a Post editor. The columnist was working at his desk at the Baltimore Sun. As Hall tells the story the editor told him he just received a tongue lashing from the Governor. When writer inquired as to why. The editor said, "because of one of your articles." The Washington Post executive says, “I told him you don’t work here, but the Governor would have none of it.”
The Governor didn’t help himself when in 1991 at a State House ceremony, Schaefer asks two Eastern Shore delegates: "How's that s— — house of an Eastern Shore?" Schaefer was pounded for a week about whether he had made the statement. Finally he relented, suggesting it was "a joke."
This misstep was followed by a no-no in Democratic circles. In 1992, during the presidential election year the Governor endorses incumbent Republican President George Bush over Democratic challenger Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.
Schaefer was often asked by the president to join him at Camp David, Maryland. Their friendship was apparently something the Governor could not turn his back on. Democrats in the state were furious. The tide of Republican office holders was changing, but here was a Maryland governor endorsing a Republican. Some people didn’t take kindly to this event. Clinton would become President and Schaefer who was termed limited went back to being an ex-governor and ex-mayor.
He retired to a townhouse in Anne Arundel County, only to appear for endorsements of candidates. This time in the wilderness Schaefer had an itching to get back into politics. The opportunity came with the death of his good friend the Comptroller of the State of Maryland, Louis Goldstein. Goldstein, a white southern Marylander was a throwback to an earlier democratic era. His popularity rivaled Schaefer in some quarters. By all accounts he was a good steward of the Maryland's fiscal health.
Because his death came in the middle of his term Governor Paris Glendenning would make an appointment to the position. Schaefer made no secret about his desire to fill the seat. Some Democrats were opposed to the former governor taking the seat because of the Republican endorsement. In the end, Glendenning did not select Schaefer. For all intents and purpose this was a feud.
The feud almost got ugly when Art Modell announced he was moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995. Invited to attend was a who’s who of Maryland and Baltimore. Missing from the invited guest list was William Donald Schaefer. The former governor had made it possible for an NFL team to come to Baltimore. In his “Do it now” style the former Governor showed up, upstaging the governor. When reporters asked the governor’s staff why Schaefer didn’t get an invite, it was suggested; “it was lost in the mail.”
This slight wasn’t lost on the 85 year old Schaefer; he decides to make a run at Comptroller. He wins with the “Schaefer Machine” drawing in 62 percent of the vote in 1998. What made his election odd; he would now have to sit next to the man who never gave him deference? The Board of Public Works where the Governor, the Treasurer and the Comptroller preside became a legislative side show. Schaefer would make opening remarks criticizing the governor. To make matters the two would never make eye contact.
The run of Democrat Governors came to a screeching halt in 2003 with election of Republican Robert Erhlich. The former congressman caught a political perfect storm. The storm included a week candidate, an electorate tiring of democratic dominance in the state and a message which resonated with voters.
Despite having a Democratic legislature, the Republican governor found a friend and willing listener in Schaefer. In keeping with tradition Schaefer continued to make pronouncements on issues unrelated to his office. On one occasion, Schaefer went on a verbal barrage for not being able to understand the attendants at a McDonald’s Restaurant for not speaking clear English (they appear to be a speaking in Spanish). The state was changing and Schaefer insisted it go back to another time.
If there was an issue which really made people uncomfortable was his usage of the term “little girl” when addressing female staff members. Schaefer suggest this was “much to do about nothing.” Woman of a certain age found the term offensive. Others suggested he came from a certain era and it shouldn’t be read as a belittling offense.
All that changed in February 2006, during a Board of Public Works meeting Schaefer stops a female aide who had just given him a mug of tea and walked away, commanding her to return and "walk again" as he watches. A room full of officials and department heads gasp at this blatant show of chauvinism.
Aides try and dismiss the incident knowing their boss is up for re-election. Reporters corner him outside a Senate hearing room. Susan Collins, a reporter for WJZ-TV Channel questioned what he done. Schaefer responded, “What I don’t have to do is take the press giving me going over all the time." While it may have worked earlier it made him look old and out of touch. Will Hall surmised, “in later years (Schaefer) lost it in the clinical sense.”
Schaefer would lose to Peter Franchot in the Democratic primary and would become the state’s comptroller. In retirement we would see little of Schaefer. My good friend Lou Davis who’s logged close to 500 interviews with the former governor and comptroller knew the end was near visiting him at his retirement apartment. Aides continued to keep close tabs on their boss.
Schaefer reappeared at the dedication of a statue to him in November of 2009. While dignitaries sang his praises, he couldn’t resist being in the spotlight at the unveiling of his statue at the Inner Harbor (a place he envisioned). He seemed to still have “fire in this belly” suggesting, “I won’t take long.” Following the event his friends would move him to Charlestown Retirement home.
The paradox that was William Donald Schaefer is that of the consummate politician. He knew he had enemies; however, he often found ways to turn them into allies. Some of those not in his camp/circle have every right to be pissed. His grudges were legends unto themselves. He never felt in life he was wrong. His letters/surprise visits to constituents are infamous. He treated journalist like children and never wanted anything bad said about him.
Sorry, if you want to be the limelight, criticism comes with the territory. In the end I’m reminded of all things he accomplished, but I’m also reminded of the things he left unfinished. If some of this made you mad, if some of this made you think, if some this made you reminisce, then I as writer have accomplished all I set I do.
Schaefer’s work is unfinished and he’s waiting on you. “Do it now.”
Maryland Public Television