BALTIMORE — William Donald Schaefer came home to his scruffy boyhood neighborhood of dusty grey rowhouses Monday afternoon, as the flag-covered casket carrying Baltimore's legendary four-term mayor was driven on a path connecting his landmark contributions to the city.
“Thanks for bringing him home,” Margaret Bracy called out to the police and politicians who accompanied the late governor, mayor and state comptroller on his farewell tour. Bracy lived just up the block from Schaefer and her two boys delivered the newspaper to his house and cut his grass.
“He was honest and he spoke his mind,” said Bracy, 74. “A lot of people don't like for you to be outspoken, but we appreciated it from him because we knew he was honest.”
Schaefer’s casket went from the State House in Annapolis to his childhood home in West Baltimore and on to the Inner Harbor, the city’s baseball and football stadiums and Lexington Market, all institutions that Schaefer either got built or promoted as major attractions.
At each stop, residents and visitors gathered to say good-bye to the irascible, impatient leader who got things built at a time when many major American cities were collapsing into physical and social decay.
In the Washington area, Schaefer was known mainly as an eccentric, a governor given to funny hats, mocking faces and brutally honest cracks. In the constellation of colorful rogues who dominated the region’s news in the 80s and 90s, he was the lesser star beside Marion Barry and Doug Wilder. In that era, Schaefer could win the support and admiration of Marylanders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties with a single but hefty dose of his ‘Do It NOW’ style, ordering a road construction blitz that cut the maddening summertime drive to the Eastern Shore beaches by an hour or more.
But in Baltimore, which still dominated Maryland’s politics during Schaefer’s reign, the four-term mayor and two-time governor was something completely different, an idealized, idolized reflection of the city’s self-image as a gritty, fun-loving, blue-collar town that had more than its share of troubles, but somehow managed to do big things.