Post-'Oglegate,' Schaefer Takes Aim At an Unlikely Target

By John Wagner
Thursday, March 16, 2006

Two weeks ago, Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer sat uncharacteristically mum through an entire Board of Public Works meeting. That was in the wake of "oglegate," an episode, as it has become known in Annapolis, in which the 84-year-old pol was caught on tape asking a 20-something aide to walk across the room as he stared at her backside.

Yesterday, Schaefer (D) was back to his surly self -- and then some.

This time, the unsuspecting target was Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a frequent ally and self-described friend of the former governor and mayor of Baltimore.

In a half-hour tirade that left Ehrlich alternately stunned and irritated, Schaefer raised questions about steep electricity rate hikes, a Baltimore expressway and special education programs. The comptroller badgered Ehrlich most about the collective judgment of the Public Service Commission, which is appointed by the governor.

"They're the best board we've had in a long time, and the chairman is excellent," Schaefer said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, as he complained about the prospect of average electricity rate increases of 72 percent for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers this summer.

Schaefer later accused the commission's chairman, Kenneth D. Schisler, a former Republican state delegate from the Eastern Shore, of "playing footsie" with the utility companies.

"He's done a very good job," insisted Ehrlich, who snapped at Schaefer a couple of times during the exchange.

A little later, Schaefer interrupted Ehrlich and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, the other two members of the panel, as they conferred privately. "We're having secret meetings now that I'm not in on," Schaefer said. "This is Glendening Jr."

That, of course, was a reference to former governor Parris N. Glendening (D), whom Schaefer constantly derided during past Board of Public Works meetings. Ehrlich has occasionally been teased or lectured but has never borne the full brunt of Schaefer's scorn.

The board is tasked with approving state contracts but has also turned into a theater for Schaefer's latest musings and rants. Yesterday's meeting dragged on far longer than most -- nearly 3 1/2 hours -- as Schaefer needled administration officials about even the most routine agenda items.

Although Schaefer's antics are nothing new, yesterday's showing was odd enough to prompt one longtime television reporter to ask him if he is running for reelection this fall. "Am I up for it?" Schaefer said. "Ohhhhh, you bet your dollar on it."

His exchange with the media turned testy, too, as Schaefer disparaged reporting done on his ogling last month and referred to a Baltimore Sun reporter as a "cute little girl."

As he left the room, Schaefer fixed his gaze on a portrait of Glendening and yelled at it: "Boo! Boo!"

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