By John Wagner and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer abruptly reversed course yesterday afternoon and issued a handwritten apology to a 24-year-old aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. whom Schaefer ogled in a public meeting this week.
Just hours earlier, the 84-year-old comptroller insisted to reporters during a prickly encounter that there was no reason to apologize for an incident that took place Wednesday and has mushroomed into a national embarrassment.
Aides had been urging Schaefer, who is up for reelection this year, to apologize and attempt to contain the damage since shortly after the incident occurred.
A senior aide to Schaefer (D) hand-delivered the 24-word letter to Elizabeth Krum, an administrative assistant in the governor's office, about 2:45 p.m. and later distributed copies to reporters.
"You have handled the 'affair' as a trooper," Schaefer wrote on Comptroller's Office letterhead. "Sorry you were put thru [th]is ordeal!" The letter, parts of which were hard to read, was signed "Don Schaefer."
Krum declined to comment, but her father, Allen Krum, said she accepted Schaefer's apology and "really just wants to get on with her life right now."
The episode occurred early in a meeting of the Board of Public Works, a panel comprising Ehrlich (R), Schaefer and State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D). The aide delivered a mug of tea to Schaefer, a former governor and mayor of Baltimore who recently celebrated 50 years in public service.
Schaefer watched Krum walk away, appearing to stare at her backside, then motioned for her to come back. "Walk again," he told her. She headed out seemingly flustered and later told other Ehrlich aides that she had been embarrassed.
The comptroller's behavior provoked widespread criticism from women's organizations and other Maryland politicians and has received national media attention.
Louise Hayman, the long-serving Schaefer aide who delivered the letter, said advisers had urged Schaefer to apologize sooner. But it wasn't until recently, she said, that Schaefer "began to realize the impact on her life. It proved to be very disruptive to her."
Some critics, though, questioned whether Schaefer accepted responsibility in the letter.
"He's apologizing for the negative publicity rather than his inappropriate behavior," said Del. Peter Franchot (Montgomery), who is challenging Schaefer in the Democratic primary.
Krum's father, a teacher in Baltimore County, acknowledged as much, saying: "It's not a wonderful apology, but for this man, it's about the best we can hope for. It would have been nice had he apologized right away. He said he did, but of course he didn't, and that's what made us upset."
He said that because Schaefer is from an older generation, "I guess it's some measure of vindication that he did apologize. So I think that's a good thing, and he's learning from his mistakes."
Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said the flap was unlikely to hurt Schaefer with longtime supporters, but it could erode support from a younger generation of voters.
"A lot of people just let Schaefer be Schaefer, but perhaps he's gone a little too far this time," he said. "His antics are wearing thinner with each passing episode, and it's clear that it took his staff to intervene with a pooper-scoop behind his mess."
A few hours before the apology was delivered, Schaefer was confronted by a gaggle of reporters and cameras about his treatment of the young aide. He was unapologetic when told by reporters that some people who had viewed their interaction on television thought it was inappropriate.
"Well, isn't that too bad!" Schaefer said sarcastically.
The comptroller was visibly agitated by the questions. He berated the media for trying to make "something very small into something big" and seemed to blame news reports for embarrassing Krum.
"She's been embarrassed to death over this. She doesn't deserve this," he said. "It's just too bad she's being subjected to this."
In the course of the interview, Schaefer ignored an attempt by an aide to cut him off and gave conflicting statements about whether he had apologized to the woman.
At one point, he said, "I did nothing that I should apologize for."
He went on to say: "If she interpreted it as an embarrassment, it was an embarrassment to her. She's 23 or 24 years old. Had nobody ever looked at her before? As I understand it, I can't identify her, she's a pretty little young lady."
When pressed again to elaborate on what had happened after their public interaction, he said: "I went in to see her. She said, 'Yes, you embarrassed me.' I said, 'I'm sorry, I wouldn't embarrass you for anything in the world.' ''
Ehrlich has said little publicly about the episode.
His spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver, said yesterday that after the incident, Ehrlich personally assured the woman "that she works in a respectful and business environment."