Mr. Schaefer was incapable of passing up any stunt to draw media attention to his city or himself. He famously turned a construction delay of the Baltimore aquarium in 1981 into a public relations win by plunging into the seal tank while wearing a Victorian-era swimsuit and holding a rubber duck.
Starting in 1986, he was twice elected governor and continued what he called his “do it now” approach to expensive infrastructure projects. He said he embraced his image as an eager-to-spend Democrat, even as a national recession in the early 1990s — which he inaccurately predicted would fade quickly — led to major tax increases and budget cuts.
As governor, Mr. Schaefer lured major corporations to the economically depressed areas of Western Maryland, pushed successfully for environmental legislation to help clean the Chesapeake Bay, widened roads to the Atlantic shoreline and used much political capital in 1988 to back the first statewide referendum on gun control ever approved by a state legislature.
To push through the referendum, Mr. Schaefer lobbied intensely to defeat a heavily funded opponent, the National Rifle Association. Mr. Schaefer had the political support of law enforcement officers, newspaper editorials and religious leaders.
Mr. Schaefer later tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to ban the sale and manufacture of some assault weapons. He greatly hurt his cause at a news conference by pointing an unloaded semiautomatic gun at an Associated Press reporter.
“Some of you have never had it in your face,” Mr. Schaefer said, explaining an action most gun enthusiasts consider highly irresponsible.
Waving the gun was not out of character. As mayor, he once yelled at the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development when he thought Baltimore was shortchanged on grant money. He irritated the official but got the money.
He addressed a newspaper editor with “Dear Edit-turd.” He answered one angry taxpayer’s letter with, “I’m glad you have recovered from your lobotomy.” He likened the conservative, rural Eastern Shore — which had not voted for him as governor — to an outhouse. He taunted his gubernatorial successor, Parris N. Glendening (D), by clucking and flapping his arms and calling him a chicken.
In Baltimore and Annapolis, he never tolerated dissent and rarely consulted legislators. He likened compromise to indecision. He was perpetually unsatisfied, once saying he thought himself a legislative failure “unless we get 105 percent of what we have proposed.”