A governor's starring role

November 15, 2000

A governor's starring role

Lights. Camera. Aannnnd, action.

The scene is Federal Hill in Baltimore and William Donald Schaefer is wearing one of those 1920s style striped bathing suits with long pants, carrying a rubber duck in one arm and two stone tablets in the other. Schaefer proceeds to lead his people from the captivity of beaten-down waterfront slums to the promised land of $45 baseball tickets and trendy retail shopping.

OK, Barry Levinson, that should get you started, you can take it from here.

The successful Baltimore filmmaker indicated last week he's considering using the life and times of Schaefer for the basis of a movie called "The Duke of Baltimore."

There's food for thought. What kind of movie would it be: Documentary? Tragedy? Comedy? What's it going to be rated, "S" for Surreal? I mean, we're talking about a guy who makes Huey Long look like Huey Lewis.


I've identified four distinct phases of Schaefer's career that would have to be included in any film:

William Donald Schaefer, the Busy Builder Years

This would, of course, include all the major overhauls he performed on the City of Baltimore. Camden Yards, Harborplace, row house renovation. And remember when he came to Boonsboro for some ceremony or another and he asked Mayor Skip Kauffman what the town most needed?

The Boonsboro mayor mentioned as how it would be nice some day if the town could have a park-n-ride, and about two weeks later, Schaefer put the project out to bid.

This area of growth and prosperity allowed the mayor/governor some levity and he entered Phase II,

William Donald Schaefer, the Merry and Lovable Eccentric Years

He jumped in the aquarium, he jumped in the bay, he wore funny hats and funnier neckties and fake eyeglasses.

Schaefer did everything with flair. No stunt was too wacky, no prank too pranky. But then the high jinks developed a dark edge.

On the floor of the House of Delegates he called the Eastern Shore an outhouse. When Sam Donaldson filed an unfavorable report from Annapolis, Schaefer initiated a "Buy Sam Donaldson a Toupee" fund.

Storm clouds gather in our film and we enter,

William Donald Schaefer, the "Quaintly Eccentric or Just Plain Nuts?" Years

He pointed a semiautomatic weapon at an AP reporter. When another AP writer walked out of a press conference when Schaefer refused to answer reporters' questions, the governor, state troopers in tow, chased him down Annapolis streets and asked if he were feeling OK.

Schaefer, a Democrat, flew to the Midwest to support the elder George Bush for president. He put a female reporter off the State House elevator and called her "little girl." There was a creeping suspicion that not all the pews in the Schaefer sanctuary were facing the pulpit and we oozed into: William Donald Schaefer, the Paranoid Years

He wrote hate mail to his critics, he had spy cameras placed throughout the State House grounds, including one in the birdhouse at the governor's mansion in hopes of catching the people who were occasionally dumping bubblebath into the water fountain.

He slapped a gag order on his press office. All comments from all state government employees had to be cleared through him.

Now we've entered the kinder, gentler comptroller years, a chapter that has yet to be completed. But I would remind you that no matter what Schaefer era you're talking about, he got results. And that to me is the final and most meaningful credit.

So. Now all that's left to do is figure out who is going to play the Duke of Baltimore - now that George C. Scott has passed.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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