Maryland Political Icon, William Donald Schaefer Dies, at 89

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Long time Maryland and Baltimore politician and character William Donald Schaefer died April 18 at his home outside Baltimore. He was 89.

Schaefer served on the Baltimore City Council for 16 years before being elected to his first of four terms as mayor of Baltimore in 1971. In his first inaugural address, according to a story in the Dec. 7, 1971 edition of the AFRO, he told the crowd, "I have worked 16 long, hard years to be able to stand here today — I can lead this city. And lead it, I shall."

He lead Baltimore through four terms, as the AFRO endorsement of Schaefer in the Sept. 8, 1979 Baltimore Afro-American noted: "He has shown qualities approaching genius at marshaling often diverse and warring elements of this city into a collective machinery that is causing the very face and soul of Baltimore to be radically transformed. … Baltimoreans are beginning to like Baltimore."

Since the news of his death, tributes have been pouring in from across the state.

"William Donald Schaefer lifted us up as a City and restored our pride from the neighborhoods up. I was president of the Greater Homewood Community Corporation in 1972, when he launched the Mayor’s Station program in our community, bringing us and other neighborhoods a direct link with City Hall without leaving home," said Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, in a statement. "With Mayor Schaefer, we were all family, and, for all the occasional disagreements, family always came first. As he wished, we will remember best that, 'He cared.'"

To Baltimore he brought the Inner Harbor project and officiated the opening of the aquarium and other projects to create a better Baltimore. He was also at the table when the Colts pulled out for Indianapolis. But, he nevertheless had more than his share of critics for how his advancements for Baltimore didn't seem to reach into all neighborhoods.

Such criticism, however, didn't slow his political career in the state, as he was elected to two terms as governor beginning in 1987. His tenure at the head of the state of Maryland included a redistricting, the consolidation of Maryland's state colleges under a single administration, the Reach the Beach and beach replenishment and the beginning of the light rail project.

"He was a great mayor and a wonderful governor. Here in Baltimore, he gave use a new sense of self-confidence. … His relentless approach to a ‘do it now philosophy,’ shook up, not only the city bureaucracy, but it spread like a culture throughout our community. We all wanted to do it now, and all do it right. … He had the heart of a reformer," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski."He wanted to build Baltimore, he wanted to build the economy. … For Schaefer, it was always about the people. … He was a true patriot and we wish him Godspeed."

After a four-year break he returned to state wide politics as the comptroller, serving in that capacity for eight years before exciting the political area for good.

"This is a sad day for the people of Maryland – and for me, personally," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. in a statement. "Gov. Schaefer devoted more than five decades to public service. His loss evokes more than our gratitude; it is as if each of us has lost a member of our family.

"As a leader, Donald Schaefer's greatest strength was that he was a Baltimorean to the core of his being. He exemplified the determination and the pride in hard work well done that is at the heart of our character as a community.

"Even on those occasions when we disagreed on policy, I never doubted that he had the public's well-being at the forefront of his mind. With Donald Schaefer's passing, an era has ended in our community. He will be missed."

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement, "Don Schaefer was an indomitable force who dedicated his life to the people of Maryland. …There was no problem that was too small for his attention and his forceful ‘do-it-now-style’ focused attention on finding solutions and getting results. Personally, it was a privilege to have known him and he leaves a legacy of strong, visionary leadership that transformed a city and a state.”

Schaefer, despite being a good politician and public servant, was best known for his brazen nature and outrageous comments. Gov. Martin O'Malley, on April 19 ordered state flags flown at half-staff and said Schaefer will lie in state at the Maryland State House and at Baltimore’s City Hall.

“Governor Schaefer’s life was spent in service to the communities he loved, and his unrelenting drive to ‘do it now’ was a constant pursuit of a better Maryland for the people he served,” said Governor O’Malley. “And so it is fitting that as we mourn the loss of Maryland’s indomitable statesman, the people of Maryland can celebrate his legacy properly.”

Funeral arrangements:

April 25
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Schaefer will lie in state at the Maryland State House, Annapolis, Md.

2 – 5 p.m.
A procession will drive through all Schaefer's favorite areas of Baltimore City.

5 – 9 p.m.
Schaefer will lie in state at Baltimore City Hall, Baltimore, Md.

April 26
9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Schaefer will lie in state at Baltimore City Hall, Baltimore, Md.

April 27
Memorial Service, Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore
Burial, Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens

In a tribute to Schaefer, Maryland Public Television will show at 8 p.m. April 27 a one-hour special, Citizen Schaefer, looking at his 51 years of public service. Following the special, MPT will air a live panel discussion on the former mayor, comptroller and governor. 

 


Read more about William Donald Schaefer in the AFRO Archives:

Click here to read about Schaefer's inauguration as Baltimore Mayor in the December 7, 1971 Baltimore Afro-American.