To Schaefer, 80, public life is never done
                    Ex-mayor, governor seeks re-election as comptroller

                    By David Nitkin
                            Sun Staff
                    Originally published June 25, 2002

                    His golden days as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor have passed,
                    but state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer won't walk away from a
                    career in public service.

                    Schaefer, 80, plans to announce tonight that he is seeking re-election as
                    the state's revenue collector and fiscal guardian. Reflecting his status as an
                    elder statesman of Maryland Democratic politics, no challenger from
                    either party has made plans to run against him.

                    "You never finish in public life," he said yesterday. "There's always a

                    Schaefer briefly tried a different path. After completing two terms as
                    governor in early 1995, he joined a law firm and became the host of a
                    radio show - typical pursuits for a politician past his prime. He says he
                    was a lousy lawyer, bored by the work. His foray into broadcasting was

                    So when Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein died in office four months before
                    the 1998 election, Schaefer mobilized his sizable army of supporters,
                    raised more than $600,000 and won with 62 percent of the vote.

                    It is not a glamorous job, and associates say Schaefer was initially
                    frustrated at its lack of power, compared with mayor or governor. But he
                    has found a niche.

                    Calls to his office are answered with the greeting, "Schaefer service line.
                    Can I help you?" He rushes checks to residents owed income tax refunds,
                    and he has cracked down on illegal sales of alcohol and tobacco.

                    "He complains a lot, but deep down, he really likes it," said Robert
                    Douglas, an attorney and former Schaefer press secretary.

                    Glendening foil

                    Most visibly, Schaefer has played foil to Gov. Parris N. Glendening at
                    meetings of the Board of Public Works, the body that authorizes most
                    state spending.

                    Schaefer, one of three members of the board, has continually criticized
                    Glendening administration budget decisions, painstakingly questioned state
                    bureaucrats on details of projects large and small, and peppered the
                    governor with insults that go unanswered.

                    "He has been in many respects a watchdog for us," said Michael S.
                    Steele, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. "He's made
                    arguments the party has made on a number of issues on how the governor
                    has prioritized his spending.

                    "I think Schaefer has been a good little pit bull, and I admire him for that,"
                    Steele said.

                    Some observers are troubled by Schaefer's outbursts. They say he has
                    grown more erratic, and that his comments sometimes border on the

                    "I don't think I'm too old," he said yesterday. "I've got a good memory."

                    Last August, it was Schaefer who flushed out Glendening's relationship
                    with a deputy chief of staff for all to see.

                    At a public works meeting, he said that in an attempt to persuade
                    Glendening to turn on a fountain built during Schaefer's tenure, he wrote a
                    letter to the "big boss," Deputy Chief of Staff Jennifer E. Crawford.

                    Two days later, the Washington Post published a lengthy article
                    completed weeks earlier detailing reporters' observations of a relationship
                    between Crawford and Glendening, who was separated from his wife at
                    the time.

                    Glendening divorced Frances Hughes Glendening in November and
                    married Crawford in January. The couple is expecting a baby this

                    'An institution'

                    Despite his run-ins with Glendening, a Sun poll in January found Schaefer
                    to be one of the most popular political figures in Maryland.

                    "He's an icon. He's an institution. He generates emotion," said Del.
                    Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "He's the kind of elected
                    official that some people love to hate, and others love. It just so happens
                    that more people love him."

                    If he wins, Schaefer will likely enjoy better relations with the next

                    He says he will not "try to hurt" the Republican gubernatorial candidate,
                    Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., during the campaign. But in all likelihood,
                    Schaefer will endorse Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and be part
                    of the Democratic ticket.

                    "We've been very pleased to be campaigning already with the
                    comptroller, and we will do many more events with him over the summer,"
                    said Michael Morrill, a Townsend spokesman. "He has been a great

                    With his political career into its fifth decade, Schaefer holds a perhaps
                    unparalleled position in state politics.

                    When state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick was flirting with
                    the idea of switching parties and running for lieutenant governor on the
                    GOP ticket, Schaefer played a key role in bringing her and Townsend
                    together for a luncheon and clearing of the air.

                    Schaefer's candidacy raises a troubling prospect, however, for some party
                    members. With Townsend virtually certain to be the gubernatorial
                    nominee and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. seeking re-election,
                    the Democratic Party may again field an all-white slate of candidates for
                    statewide office this year, depending on Townsend's choice of running

                    Maryland's population is 29 percent black, and in two of its four largest
                    jurisdictions - Baltimore and Prince George's County - African-Americans
                    are a majority.

                    "It is a concern," said Rawlings. "But my main interest is getting
                    Democrats re-elected."

                    Schaefer's announcement will be made during a $1,000-per- person
                    fund-raiser at Martin's West in Baltimore County. He hopes to collect
                    $200,000, adding to the $268,000 balance reported in his campaign
                    account in November.

                    Steele, the GOP chairman, says he has spoken with Kenneth R.
                    Timmerman, president of the Bethesda-based Maryland Taxpayers
                    Association, about running against Schaefer. But Steele concedes that
                    winning such a contest - against a popular figure in a heavily Democratic
                    state - would be a "tall order."

                    "Sometimes it's not a matter of winning," Steele said. "If you are the
                    opposition party, it's not the best thing in the world to have your opponent

                    Schaefer said he expects competition.

                    "I've never had a free ride in my life," he said.

                    His future, he says bluntly, depends on staying in office. Schaefer, a
                    lifelong bachelor with no immediate family and few hobbies, said
                    retirement is not an option.

                    "To do nothing, I'd be dead in a year."

                    Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun