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  •   All Eyes on Schaefer, Again

    Schaefer talked with reporter in Annapolis on Monday.
    Schaefer talked with reporters in Annapolis on Monday. (AP Photo)
    By Robert E. Pierre
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, July 9, 1998; Page A01

    BALTIMORE, July 8 – After leaving the State House in Annapolis three years ago, William Donald Schaefer tried to enjoy life as a private citizen. He taught at the University of Maryland and served on a dozen boards of banks, universities and nonprofits. He puttered around his garden in Pasadena.

    But soon boredom set in, the ex-governor and former Baltimore mayor admitted in an interview today.

    "There's a big difference between Don Schaefer the governor calling and Don Schaefer, Don Schaefer calling," he said in his office overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the downtown area he helped revive.

    That simple difference appears to be the primary reason Schaefer, 76, decided to reopen a chapter of his life that he thought was closed for good. In a move that has thrown Maryland Democrats into a tizzy and vexed Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Schaefer this week filed to run for comptroller, the position that opened when Louis L. Goldstein, his longtime buddy, died of a heart attack Friday.

    Glendening (D) tapped former congressman Michael D. Barnes to serve out the remaining six months of Goldstein's term. That decision miffed the easily irritated Schaefer, who had told Glendening he was interested in the job. And although high-ranking Democrats, including Glendening, are hoping to convince Schaefer to drop out, he says he's in the race to stay. He's putting together his campaign team, attending fund-raisers of other candidates and fielding calls from dozens of supporters.

    Asked whether he stands by his recent endorsement of Glendening, the ever-feisty Schaefer offered a veiled warning for the Glendening administration. "I haven't retracted it," he said. "It all depends on if they are going to get rough with me."

    Because then, instincts learned over four decades in elected office will kick in, Schaefer said. He knows how to campaign. And he intends to win. It is clear from the nostalgic way he talks about his storied political career, and the glow in his eye as he discusses the upcoming campaign, that Schaefer can't wait to rejoin the fray.

    He misses being "Willie Don," the guy who, as governor and mayor, could instantly dispatch people to help feed the hungry, fix a pothole or clean up an alley. He misses the limelight. He even claims to miss the media that he once said "made me look foolish . . . and made me seem like I was sort of a jerk and a nitwit."

    "He lives and breathes the air of public service," said Annapolis lobbyist Alan Rifkin, Schaefer's chief legislative officer during his first term as governor. "To the extent he wasn't involved from an elected standpoint, there was a piece missing."

    Schaefer said he has been fielding calls suggesting that he run since soon after Goldstein died. He talked to old friends. He is a lifelong bachelor and an only child, so he consulted with his longtime companion ("my lady friend" as he says) Hilda Mae Snoops, who is seriously ill. Schaefer was surprised when she gave her blessing for him to run.

    "I think she knows maybe I've missed something. There's something missing in life," Schaefer said.

    All the jockeying for Goldstein's position was "disgusting," he said, and he was upset that he had to file "and Louie hadn't even been buried yet."

    But his mind is already racing a mile a minute. He has to get a campaign manager. He has to raise money. He's not too worried about name recognition, having won by landslides both times he ran for governor.

    But he has to let people know he's running. Young politicians, he said, sometimes get caught up in the excitement of the campaign and forget to ask the most important question of every voter they meet: Will you vote for me? He won't make that mistake.

    Schaefer said he believes that his experience is a key selling point for his candidacy. As governor, Schaefer led the three-member Board of Public Works that approves state contracts. The other members are the comptroller and the state treasurer, who is elected by Maryland General Assembly. The comptroller's main job is collecting taxes, but Schaefer said he intends to refocus the job to foster economic development, press for greater funding for higher education and forge better relationships between Baltimore and the Washington suburbs – which sounds a lot like a gubernatorial platform.

    Schaefer maintained that he would not try to usurp the duties of the governor. "The comptroller is not the governor," he said. "And if I did become comptroller, I am not governor, but I certainly expect to have input in the areas of my interest."

    Glendening spokesman Peter Hamm said the governor intends to meet with Schaefer to discuss the race, but Hamm stopped short of saying Glendening wants Schaefer out. If Schaefer decides to remain in the race, Hamm said, the campaign will be "cordial."

    Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Schaefer definitely would bring independence to the job of comptroller. But Rawlings did raise questions about Schaefer's commitment to the state's fiscal condition. As governor, he noted, Schaefer "used to ridicule our passion for maintaining the [state's] AAA bonding."

    Schaefer allows that some people will say that he's too old and that he ought to be satisfied to retire. But Schaefer believes he has something left to give. He wants to feel needed. Like he was, he said, when he was able to secure a $25,000 donation recently for a small Catholic school in Baltimore that was raising $1 million for a renovation project.

    "You would think I had gotten them 10 million [dollars]," he said. "That was a great moment for me. It was just great. I miss that."

    And it was great this week when he traveled to the elections board in Annapolis on Monday to file his papers to run. He was swarmed by reporters as he arrived. And he lingered long after his business was done, taking pictures with babies and feigning surprise when a small group of politicos applauded him.

    "The other day, it was like old times," he said. "I had fun. That was great."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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