A Bittersweet End to a Long and Colorful Career
'I Go Away Sad,' Says Departing Comptroller

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007; B02

A subdued but good-humored William Donald Schaefer, leaving public service after five decades, bade farewell yesterday at his last official meeting as Maryland state comptroller.

The usually colorful and oft-cantankerous Schaefer, 85, was showered with praise and presented with a cake at a meeting of the state Board of Public Works at the State House in Annapolis.

"I don't go away happy, I go away sad, because I wish I could do it all over again," said Schaefer (D), one of three board members.

Schaefer has served as a member of the Baltimore City Council, four terms as mayor of Baltimore, two terms as governor and two terms as comptroller. He was described by outgoing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) yesterday as "the dominant figure . . . in Maryland public life for many, many generations."

At yesterday's meeting, Schaefer drew uncomfortable laughter when he said he would now spend his time alone in his apartment, eating TV dinners.

The twice-monthly Board of Public Works meetings provided the setting for some of Schaefer's most controversial antics over the past year. Those episodes, together with some others, contributed to Schaefer's third-place finish in the Democratic primary for comptroller in September.

During one meeting, he ogled a young female aide to Ehrlich. At another, he suggested that South Korean immigrants to the United States had some connection to the testing of long-range missiles by North Korea.

Yesterday, Schaefer was more reflective than bombastic, and he refrained from his frequent practice of skewering some state official over perceived outrages.

"I lost the last election through stupidity on my part, but that's the way it goes," Schaefer said.

At the close of the meeting, Ehrlich, who also was denied reelection in November, recalled the time when Schaefer donned an old-fashioned swimsuit and jumped into a tank at the National Aquarium.

"Mr. Comptroller, everybody loves you," Ehrlich said. "Not because you're a politician and wore goofy suits and jumped into a seal tank -- although that was pretty brilliant, I have to say. Everybody loves you because your heart is larger than the state of Maryland."

Schaefer took the microphone a final time and likened himself to New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig, who called himself the "luckiest man" alive although he had been stricken with a fatal disease.

"I've been a lucky man, too," said Schaefer, who was given a sustained standing ovation.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company