Maryland lost a great friend this week. William Donald Shaefer passed away on Monday. Schaefer was mayor of Baltimore City from 1971 to 1987 -- 16 years during which he committed his life to improving the city. Harborplace, Camden Yards, the Baltimore Aquarium -- all exist as testimonials to his commitment to Baltimore. Schaefer served as governor of Maryland from 1987 to 1995. He was a fierce advocate of the Chesapeake Bay, yet recognized the need for industry and economic development on the Eastern Shore, and especially Western Maryland.
Schaefer cared more about the politics of accomplishment than he did the politics of parties. In 1992, he shocked the Democratic establishment by endorsing George H.W. Bush’s bid for re-election against fellow Democrat Bill Clinton. There was little chance that it would influence the Maryland vote and there seemed to be little for Schaefer to gain — but he simply preferred Bush over Clinton.
When Republican Bob Ehrlich ran for governor in 2002, Schaefer did not endorse him, but was certainly friendly to Ehrlich and quite cool to the Democratic candidate, then Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Not content to live in retirement, Schaefer ran for and won the office of comptroller in 1998 and served two terms. In Maryland, the comptroller is in fact quite an important office. He was defeated in a three-way primary in 2006 — largely the result of the fact that famously off-color remarks were increasingly viewed as being out of step with the times.
History will remember Schaefer as part of a passing breed of colorful American politicians. A tremendous and dedicated mayor who rejuvenated his city, but struggled on the larger stage of state politics.
Schaefer once said in an interview with Esquire:
“You don’t need a charming, wavy-haired talker for a mayor. You need the toughest, canniest, most obsessive sonofabitch in town. You need someone who’s going to make it his life.”
That’s what the folks of Baltimore City got for 17 years from William Donald Schaefer. All Marylanders lost a true champion this week.
Todd Eberly blogs at The FreeStaterBlog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.