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April 22, 2011

William Donald Schaefer

Roy Meachum

In the first place, when Don Schaefer decided to abandon Baltimore City Hall to run for the State House in Annapolis, in 1986, my Frederick News-Post column opposed him.


In fact, for the first time in my life I contributed money to a political campaign. I trusted Attorney General Steve Sachs to the tune of 20 bucks. But more importantly, I did not trust the machine that produced Mayor Schaefer, who bumped aside the speaker of the House of Delegates. Ben Cardin in his aborted gubernatorial campaign stopped by Frederick. We met in Winchester Hall. I was appalled when the future U.S. senator was forced to the sidelines by Irvin Kovens.


After moving up from Bethesda, I must confess I was politically naïve. In my years in Washington I covered the exercise of power by the ALREADY-elected and their staffs. After picking up the News-Post column, I prattled in unsophisticated ignorance; I was still enthralled by the notion that politicians stood between the electorate and what the people wanted. Attorney General Sachs was my political beau ideal.


That was obviously before I discovered most voters cared less about what an official did unless it was to their advantage. And Don Schaefer helped me learn the lesson while he was still mayor. His cajoling and bullying continued at the state level, once he moved to Annapolis. Mr. Kovens, although convicted several years earlier, with Gov. Marvin Mandel, was the successor to 19th century bosses that rallied the common people against the wealthy and elite. Like Jack Pollack immediately before him, he bought loyalty by good deeds: jobs, food and accessibility.


After fighting the new governor, I switched to supporting him; he helped. Instead of sarcastically dismissing my observations, Don Schaefer wooed me, helping me to understand that he was a bully with sensitivity. As a part of his campaign, I was invited along to a State House reception where I was introduced to his official hostess, Hilda Mae Snoops. A few years younger, she died in 1999.


The former mayor and governor died Monday, leaving behind a bevy of praises from all over the country. His passing was commemorated by media outlets from coast-to-coast, in big and small communities. He was remembered as the man who deeply cared about his entire community and the single individual who created a thriving city from the decay and ashes I witnessed when I worked for WBAL-TV and radio. Native son Sidney King told me Baltimore was a nickel beer town. That was before Don Schaeffer’s political career took off.


Long before the 21st century tip-toed in, Natty Boh had been replaced in saloons and restaurants by brews that cost more than 20 times more, thanks to the late mayor. Along the way he breathed new life in his hometown, significantly by Harborplace. On his watch the Colts sneaked out to Indianapolis supposedly because of the decaying facility they played in, stabbing Baltimore’s pride in the heart. Never again, the local boy vowed, building magnificent stadiums for both baseball and football, which drew in the team named for Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven. The eternally famous poet rests in a cemetery on the city’s newly developed west side.


All in all, William Donald Schaefer did “good,” as I’ve tried to write in this column. When he passed this week, despite my initial reluctance, I was among his admirers and mourners.


Don, you earned the peace you’re now enjoying.


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