By Len Lazarick
William Donald Schaefer – city councilman, mayor, governor, comptroller — was a man we journalists loved to hate, and he returned the grudging respect in kind.
He used us for his higher purposes, and reporters used him with all his strengths and flaws for some of the most flamboyant head-shaking stories we will ever remember.
I found the link to the Baltimore Examiner cover story I wrote about him in 2006 a few months after his defeat to Peter Franchot. It stands up pretty well as a eulogy, which it was of sorts, after his political demise. (Disregard the aberrant question marks that keep popping up.)
For 30 years or more, Schaefer was the man to be covered and quoted: bully, do-it-now tyrant, clown, visionary, momma’s boy, lover of Baltimore, friend of business, enemy of potholes. He inspired immense loyalty from his staff, and the gratitude of abused scribes, who seldom walked away without some kind of story.
Years ago, Sun columnist Dan Rodricks wrote a series on “Don Dinaldo,” comic opera settings with WDS in the title role. He mocked Schaefer the way you can with a persona larger than life. Last night, Dan published a wonderful tribute with those personal vignettes that leave you shaking your head about the Don.
Last night, I called my friend Tom Darden, official photographer of all the governors for 30 years from Mandel through Ehrlich. Just Saturday in Darden’s mountaintop roost in Allegany County we had been looking at Schaefer photos as we started work on Darden’s memoir.
“He was one of my favorite governors,” Darden, 67, said. He was going into the new Hagerstown hospital on Tuesday for knee replacement surgery that would keep him from the funeral. “I would give anything in the world to be there,” Darden said. “He meant so much to me.”
He recalled touching private moments with Schaefer, a complicated man with a heart for the little people – except those that annoyed him.
“He was a wonderful man,” Darden said. “His type will not be seen again.”
That’s a sentiment shared by the statements on Schaefer’s passing I’ve gotten from various officials. Thousands of little folk will be shaking their heads too.
Love him, hate him, we’ve been missing him for quite some time, and now he’s gone.
Years ago, in one of my first chances to talk with then-Governor Schaefer, he held a press-gaggle with reporters. I asked the question that was on the minds of others. “What will the name be for the new stadium being built to replace Memorial Stadium”? It was not yet his time to reveal the name “Oriole Park at Camden Yards”, so he deflected my question by talking about the weather, and what a nice day it was. That was the first time, but certainly not the last time, that a politician ever deflected my question. Yet he did it with such humor and style, I didn’t mind. No matter if you liked or disliked either his policies, or his style, you knew that he cared… for Baltimore, for Maryland, and for people.
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