Schaefer Is Retiring, But Never Shy
On Last Day of Work, Md. Politician Offers Final Zingers

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 20, 2007; B01

William Donald Schaefer has no illusions about what will happen when he leaves public office Monday after more than half a century.

"Nobody cares. Once you're out, you're gone," he said. "In two weeks they won't know my name, and I'm giving myself an extra week."

Even so, hundreds of employees lined the entrance to the Revenue Administration Building in Annapolis yesterday, awaiting Schaefer's arrival for his last day of work as Maryland comptroller.

Shivering in the early morning cold, the well-wishers held up signs: "We love you boss," said one. "A tip of my hat for a job well done," read another. And "Little girls for Schaefer" -- a reference to one of the many politically incorrect phrases that he blames for ending one of the most storied and colorful careers in Maryland politics.

As the car carrying the comptroller pulled up, the Annapolis High School band began playing and the Maryland National Guard's color guard stood at attention.

Schaefer, 85, stepped onto a red carpet and was presented a bouquet of roses and a top hat. His eyes welled up, and he clutched a handkerchief. For once, Schaefer was speechless.

He has long been a dominant figure in Maryland politics. He began in the 1950s as a member of the Baltimore City Council, then served four memorable terms as the mayor who revitalized Baltimore. Next came two fiery terms as governor. And just when it seemed he was done, Schaefer became state comptroller, a powerful post overseeing fiscal matters, in 1998.

Schaefer was a flamboyant figure, a can-do, red-tape-cutting populist with a penchant for outrageous comments. But in the end, his antics overshadowed his actions. Voters were not impressed when he ogled a young woman at a public meeting or dismissed Democratic primary rival Janet S. Owens as "Mother Hubbard." A third candidate, former delegate Peter Franchot (D), won the primary and subsequent election and will be sworn in Monday.

"I beat myself with my big mouth," Schaefer said last week.

Now, Schaefer insists he is through with elected office. "I had a long, good run. The end wasn't as happy as it should be. I might have tried once too often, and I wasn't watching my back."

What Schaefer will do next remains a mystery. He is setting up an office in the 1st Mariner Bank Building in Baltimore. "Nice office. Good view," he said.

How about running for mayor of Ocean City, where he owns a house? Schaefer had wryly suggested he might do that after he lost the primary. "That's just a joke," he said.

Schaefer, who has not been subtle about his distaste for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), is not holding his breath about being appointed to any boards or commissions, a common fate of former public officials. "With the new governor in, I wouldn't be appointed to the dog house," Schaefer said.

Could he pen his memoirs? "I ain't got no memories."

How about a political column? "I couldn't put enough words together."

Radio talk show host? He tried that once. "I lasted two weeks."

Could he lecture about political science? "I'm not a good teacher."

So what will he do in his office? "I'm going to be a consultant," he said. "That takes care of anything. I don't know who'll ask my advice."

In the meantime, he will visit his favorite Baltimore haunts with old cronies. "Oh sure, I go down to Little Italy just about every day," he said.

Schaefer is a lifelong bachelor -- his companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, died in 1999 -- and has no family. He plans to spend a lot of time at his townhouse in northern Anne Arundel County. "I'm going to get about a month's [worth of] TV dinners, TV breakfasts," he said. "I'll walk out on the balcony when it's nice, look at the flowers blooming, look at the rabbits eating my radishes."

The Anne Arundel house is crammed with decades of memorabilia. "I throw nothing away. Nothing. When I finally draw the curtains, the poor person that has to empty out my house, I feel sorry for. Nothing of value. They wouldn't even rob my place."

Now he has to find room for all the artifacts from his Annapolis office. "I'm clearing out everything," he said. "The only thing that will be left are some papers and the stapler, and I might take the stapler."

Schaefer looked over his shoulder and did a double take when he saw a bronze statue of a blue heron still standing on a shelf. "What the hell?" he barked. "I've got to take that bird out of here. That reminds me of Mike Miller. Big ass and small head."

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert) is not the only fellow Democrat for whom Schaefer has less than fond words.

What expectations, for example, does he have for O'Malley? "His beauty and his charisma are his two main assets," Schaefer said.

What about O'Malley's substance? "His charisma and his whatever are his two main assets."

And the transition with Franchot has not been the smoothest. "We have a mutual understanding," said Schaefer. "He stays away from me, and I stay away from him."

Arriving at his office yesterday, Schaefer gave the crowd a wave and a salute, then shuffled toward the building. Amid clicking cameras and cries of "We love you," Schaefer stopped for a brief interview with reporters.

Asked what he was going to do, he said: "Sleep."

He added: "It's a sad day. . . . I'm sad I'm leaving."

His mood brightened as the crowd chanted "Hooray for Schaefer!"

"Friends," said Schaefer, "it's great to see you all."

Staff writer Raymond McCaffrey contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company