General Assembly

In service, he's golden
Schaefer honored for his 50 years as a public servant in Md.
By Jill Rosen
Sun Reporter

February 8, 2006

William Donald Schaefer has spent more years in elected office than nearly half of Maryland's legislators have been alive.

Yesterday those comparative babes in the woods honored the crotchety comptroller, former governor, former Baltimore mayor and former member of the Baltimore City Council -- where he also served as council president.

Fifty years of public service. And Schaefer's not done.

"I'm gonna run again," he told the cheering Senate. "I'll be here for another 22."

In back-to-back ceremonies yesterday, senators and delegates regaled the 84-year-old Democrat's half-century milestone and legacy still-in-progress with cake, gifts and at least three standing ovations.

"It's quite an achievement," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. "Very few of us will reach the milestone this individual will in his career."

Schaefer laughed and clapped as the House watched a this-is-your-life slide show in black and white, a nonstop barrage of Schaefer mugging at family and official events.

Baby-faced on a Baltimore street. In his Army uniform. Next to U.S. presidents. Welcoming an Inner Harbor rebirth.

In the Senate, he listened as Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, recalled how then-Mayor Schaefer, whom he called "boss," flung an ashtray in his direction at a meeting in the 1970s.

The two were working on the city's budget when, said Della, who was a councilman at the time, "I think I made a comment that was irritating to the mayor."

So Mayor Schaefer responded by whipping a nearby ashtray at Della, which whizzed past his head and hit the meeting room door with a disturbingly loud bang.

"I was in awe of the man," said Della, adding that, temper aside, what really impressed him about Schaefer was his diehard hometown sensibilities.

"He was born on Edgewood Street," Della said. "And he never forgot that."

"They guy was like the Wizard of Oz," the senator continued. "He took a city and gave it heart, and he gave it courage and he brought it to life."

In exchange for the praise and gifts -- which included a trophy in the shape of a five-pointed star representing each decade of his service -- Schaefer left the House and Senate with advice. Lots of it.

"Public service is one thing and one thing only," he told the delegates. "Helping people."

"Sometimes we say we don't put enough thought into what we're voting on," he told the Senate. "But every one of your votes is essential."

And, after telling them that he recently perused a wall of portraits at Baltimore City Hall -- all men that he's outlived:

"I've known lots of great men. All of them are gone. Make sure, when you go, that your picture is out where everyone can see it."

Schaefer acknowledged that he's getting old but insisted that he's "in perfect shape."

In an interview after the ceremony, he said he's eager for another term in office.

"I like the job," he said, relaxing in the House lounge with a cup of tea and a slice of his cake.

His goal, he said, is to lasso even more payments from the state's tax-shirkers. "I really got a record. ... We've collected a lot of money."

Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat who's running against Schaefer for comptroller in the September primary, said yesterday that his hat is also off to Schaefer -- for the most part.

"I salute William Donald Schaefer for 50 years in service. I thank him for what he's done for the city of Baltimore and the state," Franchot said. "For the most part, he's done a great job."

Franchot acknowledged some jitters about challenging a legacy like this at the polls.

"I tell people I'm running against the Babe Ruth of Maryland politics," he says. "But even Babe Ruth retired at some point."
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun