From the Baltimore Sun
Schaefer's exit takes the cake
Bittersweet end to career at last board meeting
By Andrew A. Green
January 4, 2007
"This is a momentous occasion," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said at the
beginning of yesterday's Board of Public Works meeting, grinning at the
cameras as an aide brought forward a coconut-frosted confection. "It is
the 1,000th free cake Governor Schaefer has gotten out of the
Government House kitchen."
It was momentous for more than that: The session was presumably the
last Board of Public Works meeting for Comptroller William Donald
Schaefer, whose September primary loss appears to have closed a
half-century of public service. It was also the last meeting for
Ehrlich, who has worked diligently to keep Schaefer as an ally,
frequently by using cakes to soothe the irascible comptroller.
But, as has almost always been the case at the public works panel, this
was Schaefer's show.
"I leave public life now after 50 years, and I don't leave happy,"
Schaefer said. "I leave sad, because I wish I could do it all over
"I remember Lou Gehrig when he gave his speech," said Schaefer, 85,
referring to the New York Yankees first baseman. "I remember him so
well when he said he was the luckiest man in the world, and he was. He
was a fine man, and I've been lucky, too. I'll walk away today crying a
little bit, shedding a tear, going back to my lonely little room by
myself to have a TV dinner and think about how everyone has been so
nice to me."
Since his election loss last year -- a defeat fueled by remarks he made
at board meetings that offended women, immigrants, minorities, AIDS
patients and others -- Schaefer has been praised, thanked and honored
repeatedly for his service as a Baltimore city councilman, City Council
president, mayor, governor and comptroller.
He still has more than two weeks on the job until his successor, Peter
Franchot, is sworn in, and the opening of the General Assembly session
next week will provide more opportunities for goodbyes.
But Schaefer made his farewell by taking full advantage of the forum he
has used to badger bureaucrats, harass governors and crack jokes. In
about an hour, Schaefer, Ehrlich and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp invoked
laughter, inspired tears and spent about $400 million in state
Given that approving contracts is the stated purpose of the Board of
Public Works, all this drama might seem out of place. But what was
remarkable about yesterday's meeting was how little it differed from a
run-of-the-mill Board of Public Works session in the Schaefer era.
If anything was unusual, it was that when the board voted to name a
piece of state property after someone, it wasn't in tribute to
Schaefer. Instead, the board dedicated the Northern Central Rail Trail
in Baltimore County to former Department of Natural Resources Secretary
Torrey C. Brown.
Yesterday's meeting was packed, a standing-room-only crowd including
dozens of reporters and photographers from newspapers and radio and
television stations across the state. Top-dollar lobbyists, Cabinet
secretaries and a couple of state senators crowded into the Governor's
Reception Room on the top floor of the capitol to watch the show.
But that has been more or less the norm since Schaefer was elected
comptroller in 1998 and took a seat next to his nemesis, Gov. Parris N.
Glendening. That's when public works meetings got exciting. Schaefer
routinely harangued Glendening -- he even used the occasion of a
meeting in 2001 to insinuate that the governor was having an
extramarital affair, an event that preceded Glendening's divorce and
The Ehrlich years have been more of a long Schaefer love feast. The two
politicians share much of their political bases among
conservative-leaning Democrats, and they appear to have genuine
affection for each other. The compliments that flowed between them
yesterday were only slightly more effusive than usual.
"Everybody loves you, not because you are a politician or wore that
goofy suit and jumped into the seal pool, although that was a brilliant
move," Ehrlich said, referring to a classic Schaefer stunt at the
National Aquarium. "Everybody loves you because your heart is bigger
than the state of Maryland."
"It has been a pleasure to work with your administration," Schaefer
responded. "I never had to worry about you. I never had to worry about
you dealing under the table."
Ehrlich and Schaefer also kept up their running Board of Public Works
comedy routine, in which the governor cracks wise and the comptroller
pretends to get mad. To wit: In the middle of Ehrlich's joke about the
cake at the beginning of the meeting, Schaefer butted in, "What kind of
cake is it?"
"It's free," Ehrlich said. "Don't worry about it."
And later: "Old governors never die," Schaefer said during a speech
about how honest and trustworthy Ehrlich is. "They just float away."
"They become comptroller, I guess," Ehrlich interjected.
"I used to like him," Schaefer said.
Schaefer's performance was somewhat unusual yesterday in that he didn't
grill any of Ehrlich's Cabinet secretaries or quibble over the details
of any of the contracts that the board approved.
And he said nothing that would be likely to offend anyone. Instead, he
came about as close as he ever has to looking back on some of his
antics with regret.
"I lost the last election because of stupidity on my own part,"
Schaefer said. "I wish I hadn't done some of the things I did, but
that's the way it goes."
"I've had a good, long run," he said. "And I hope to go out on a
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun