William Donald Schaefer will be remembered for his sense of caring as a public servant and his ability to get things done in his remarkable career as Baltimore City mayor, Maryland’s governor and its comptroller.
Greater Baltimore Committee president and CEO Donald C. Fry remembers Schaefer, who died on April 18, for his ability to do what was right.
“He certainly was a one-of-a-kind,” Fry said of Schaefer. “If you look over the last century I don’t think you’re ever going to find a public servant who cared so much about the city and the state and who demonstrated a desire not only to get things done – which he certainly was famous for. But more importantly, as an elected official, he had a knack for doing the right thing.”
Schaefer was mayor of Baltimore from 1971 to 1986, when he was elected Maryland’s 58th governor. He was re-elected governor in 1990. Schaefer subsequently was elected to two terms as Maryland Comptroller in 1998 and 2002.
As Baltimore mayor, Schaefer presided over much of the major development that gained national attention as Baltimore’s renaissance – the rebirth of the city’s downtown and harbor during the 1970s and 1980s in which the GBC, working with Schaefer, played a leading role and which is a continuing major focus of the GBC.
Many view the July 2, 1980 opening of Harborplace as the single event that characterized the Inner Harbor’s dramatic transformation from derelict docks to a world-class attraction. However, Schaefer also presided over an extraordinary decade of development in the harbor area that preceded the opening of Harborplace, including the openings of the USF&G Building (1973), the IBM Building (1975), the Garmatz Courthouse (1976), the Maryland Science Center (1976), C&P Telephone Company headquarters (1977), the World Trade Center (1977), and the Baltimore Convention Center (1979).
The opening of Harborplace was followed by the openings in 1981 of the National Aquarium and the Hyatt Regency.
As governor, Schaefer presided over the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, legislative approval of a football stadium, a reorganization of the state’s higher education system, and the creation of the Baltimore region’s light rail line.
As mayor, Schaefer always had the next big project in mind, but he won the hearts of Baltimore’s citizens for his ability to also focus on the details in the city’s neighborhoods and to fix things, ranging from potholes to uncollected trash. No one ever questioned Schaefer’s passionate dedication to helping people and his penchant for listening and fixing.
Schaefer was a long-time friend of renowned developer Jim Rouse, who had spearheaded the founding of the Greater Baltimore Committee in 1955 – the same year that Schaefer won his City Council seat.
Rouse and a group of entrepreneurs and business executives founded the GBC as an action committee dedicated to improving the business climate of the city and region by focusing business resources on taking “prompt and aggressive action looking towards the solution of many of the city’s most pressing problems,” according to a 1955 press release announcing the GBC’s formation.
During his tenure as mayor, Schaefer tapped into the business community’s efforts, through the GBC, to resolve the problems facing the city. He looked to the GBC to support his vision, as well as to provide funding for both development projects and Schaefer’s neighborhood initiatives.
In 1978, the GBC raised more than $80,000 to finance a campaign to get the voters to approve a ballot referendum in the 1978 election to build Harborplace.
Schaefer’s legendary irascibility was counterbalanced by a passion for helping constituents and by his fierce loyalty – to staffers, colleagues, and friends.
Schaefer was a close and loyal friend to long-time GBC senior advisor Walter Sondheim who, during Schaefer’s tenure as mayor, had served as chairman of Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management, Inc., the nonprofit organization charged with managing the downtown’s redevelopment.
Schaefer described Sondheim as a man of “integrity, absolute, total integrity.” Schaefer always remembered Sondheim’s birthday, and long-time GBC staffers remember hearing Schaefer’s voice booming his rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Sondheim on his speaker phone in his GBC office.
Links to more articles and remembrances of William Donald Schaefer:
WBAL-TV: Maryland mourns major force in state politics
WBAL Radio News: Schaefer funeral plans set, aides, officials, citizens offer tributes
Baltimore Sun: Schaefer recalled as ‘good man who cared’
Baltimore Business Journal: Schaefer a man ‘among the people’
The November 2009 dedication of the Schaefer statue in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor drew hundreds of friends and well-wishers.
Mourners placed flowers at the Inner Harbor statue of Schaefer.