Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pothole procession for ex-mayor

Schaefer’s last ride

through his beloved city

likely a little bumpy

In the end, he moves to suburbia

William Donald Schaefer, the do-it-now Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, didn’t have to wait for a grave for a little posthumous gymnastics. He must have been rolling over in the hearse during a final ride around his beloved city.

Call it the Grand Pothole Tour of Baltimore.

Schaefer hated potholes, trash, abandoned cars – the annoyances and detritus that herald neglect and urban decay. Media folks and pols who observed Schaefer during his nearly half a century in public office wrote in recent days of his sometimes crazed demands to fix what he saw was broken.

As mayor for 15 years, Schaefer would observe problems on rides through the city and send “blue notes” to department heads pointing out what they needed to address immediately, if not sooner. By one account I read, Schaefer blue-noted an abandoned car that he wanted towed off the street – but didn’t divulge the location. Supposedly, several hundred abandoned cars were hauled away in the ensuing days.

It doesn’t take a Grand Tour to find potholes around town these days, amid a seemingly constant stream of utility and road work ripping up streets and patching the resulting wounds – rarely with an even surface.

Over the last few months, the city has spent millions of dollars repaving portions of the key arteries of Pratt and Light streets for use in early September as the course of Baltimore’s first grand prix Indy-car race.

Even the bright new concrete seems to have repaved patches now.

Maybe it was inevitably a losing battle to make the city a better place. It took a tireless leader, with a singular devotion to the job. That’s one of the attributes that made Schaefer a rarity among politicians.

Schaefer died on April 18 at a retirement community nursing facility, at 89. His health had been in a downward spiral in recent months.

Tour begins at home

After lying in state for several hours Monday at the State House in Annapolis, Schaefer was driven north to Baltimore for the Grand Tour, beginning outside the westside rowhouse where the bachelor mayor had lived with his aging mother until her death in 1983 – and long after most white neighbors had fled the area. He owned the house until 1998, retreating there at times even when he was governor and ostensibly living in Government House, Maryland’s official gubernatorial residence.

Trouble was, home – on Edgewood Street – was where his heart resided.

I caught up with Monday’s memorial motorcade at Harborplace, where in 2009 Schaefer made what was likely his last major public appearance– for the dedication of his statue near the edge of the landmark tourist destination that three decades ago became the foundation for his vision of an urban renaissance.

About 200 people, including statue sculptor Rodney Carroll, waited there for the procession’s anticipated late afternoon arrival, and then the crowd doubled in size as the gathering attracted attention and the motorcade, led by nearly two dozen police motorcycles, passed by on the way to a stop at nearby Federal Hill Park.

Minutes later, the hearse and its escort of motorcycles, limousine and SUVs bearing dignitaries turned onto the brick promenade by the statue, and was surrounded by the throng that ranged from homeless people to former Schaefer aides in city and state government.

Some eyed the flag-draped casket, or touched the back of the hearse. Others carried treasured keepsakes, one woman with a certificate of merit he had given her for government service. A former aide pulled out an old Schaefer election T-shirt from her pocketbook – a souvenir now a few sizes too small to wear.

There was spontaneous applause, and three booms of cannon fire from the topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore 2 – the city and state goodwill ship. The original Pride, championed and commissioned by Mayor Schaefer, was launched in 1977. It was lost in the Atlantic in 1986, along with four of its 12 crew members. Federal Hill overlooks its memorial.

From Harborplace, the motorcade moved along to another key Schaefer landmark – Baltimore’s National Aquarium. As mayor, he pushed for its creation – and when its scheduled completion was delayed by several weeks, Schaefer famously took a dip in its seal pool. The stunt brought Baltimore worldwide publicity.

Along the circular drive outside the aquarium, hundreds more spectators – and dozens of its employees – had gathered to cheer Schaefer. One of them held up a cut-out photo of Schaefer, in the classic image of him wearing a Victorian-style bathing suit and straw-hat boater, and holding an inflated blowup Donald Duck. The near-lifesize cut-out was marked on the back as having been displayed at the aquarium’s grand opening.

The procession continued through Little Italy and Fells Point, and ended at City Hall where Schaefer again was honored by lying in state until 9 p.m. Tuesday – and as the final hour neared, a city parking control agent was ticketing cars at expired meters nearby. Evidently, when you visit City Hall – even after 7 p.m., to pay final respects to a former mayor – you have to cough up $2 an hour at curbside.

His funeral takes place Wednesday.

Hilda who?

The memorial procession did not pass Club Hippo – a gay nightspot where, I’ve heard, Schaefer received a raucous greeting as he passed by during a parade down Charles Street years ago.

Some in the gay community felt that Schaefer, too, was gay and they wanted him out of the closet.

For many years, there’s been speculation about the sex life of Schaefer – a bachelor who steadfastly lived with mother and never married. But that’s apparently all you get on the subject: Speculation.

A political biography by former Baltimore Sun reporter C. Fraser Smith noted that, as a young man, Schaefer frequented the city’s adult entertainment district known as The Block.

There’s been talk that his most serious attraction was to Mary Arabian, who became his law partner and later the first female judge on the old city Municipal Court.

And later, there was Hilda Mae Snoops, a divorced mother of three, nurse and retired health care analyst for the federal Health Care Financing Administration. She was a longtime friend, and became something more as his close companion. She was at times described as his girlfriend. And in the absence of a First Lady of Maryland during Schaefer’s eight-year run as governor, she was given a title as the state’s “Official Hostess.”

Of course, the press referred to her privately as “Snoopy.”

Eventually, she talked Schaefer into purchasing a townhouse adjoining her home in a northeastern Anne Arundel County community.

But as for how close their relationship, who knows? Who even cares?

More importantly, in an era when scandals are all too frequent, there was none when it came to William Donald Schaefer. Whatever his style (if there was any style at all),, he was never caught in a tawdry situation – unlike so many celebrities and office-holding hypocrites, both Democrat and Republican.

Name your favorite: Democrat Eliot Spitzer, the New York governor with a peccadillo for pricy prostitutes; President Clinton and the knee-padded intern; Robert Bauman, the Republican Maryland congressman and married father of four whose closet life included a 16-year-old male prostitute; presidential candidate and marital cheater John Edwards.

The list could be, to borrow a Trumpian adjective, huge.

Schaefer, whatever the relationship, was devoted to public life, his city, and Snoops – who died in 1999.

According to his wish, Schaefer will be interred at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens next to Snoops – oddly enough, outside the city limits.


Anonymous said...

Here's more detail if you don't remember the incident:
On February 15, 2006, Schaefer made suggestive comments to Elizabeth Krum, a 24-year-old assistant to then-Governor Robert Ehrlich. Responding to Schaefer's request for tea, Krum set a thermal mug in front of him. Schaefer watched her walk away, then beckoned for her to return. When she obliged, he told her, "Walk again," staring after her as she left the conference room. Schaefer initially refused to apologize, saying, "She's a pretty little girl. She ought to be damn happy that I observed her going out the door. The day I don't look at pretty women is the day I die." (Schaefer has long called the women with whom he works "little girls.") However, within days of the leering incident, Schaefer issued a handwritten letter to Krum informing her she had handled the affair as a "trouper."[20]

David Ettlin said...

The aging Schaefer was not above public moments of ignorant behavior.