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Before elite audience, Schaefer eulogized and laid to rest

william donald schaefer jennifer bishop

A portrait of William Donald Schaefer, shot in Baltimore City Hall sometime in the 1970s.

Photo by: Jennifer Bishop

Today, the third and final day of the city’s aureate tribute to William Donald Schaefer, was not the people’s day.

It was the day that lawyers, businessmen, clergy, educators, corporate execs and others high on the food chain came to pay their respects to the four-term Baltimore mayor and two-term Maryland governor who died last week at 89.

The mostly white and predominately elderly crowd thronged Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for the 11 a.m. funeral service.

Just about every high-profile politician – both in and out of office – arrived at the historic church on North Charles Street. Among the grandees: Gov. Martin O’Malley and his wife Katie Curran O’Malley; former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and his wife Kendel; Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown; Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; ex-Mayor Sheila Dixon; ex-Governors Harry Hughes and Marvin Mandel; Congressmen Elijah Cummings, Steny Hoyer, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger and John P. Sarbanes; Maryland Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch; Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz; and ex-Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, recently released from his stint as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Noticeable in their absence were Schaefer’s successor as mayor (Kurt L. Schmoke) and successor as governor (Parris N. Glendening) – both of whom suffered the slings of Schaeferian barbs after taking over “his” jobs.

Insider Talk About Highways and “Councilman Muffin”

Together with the now widely-circulated anecdotes about Schaefer’s obsession with filling potholes and building the Inner Harbor, former Congressman Kweisi Mfume and U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski treated the crowd to some political inside baseball.

To loud laugher, Mfume pointed out “no one irritated Schaefer more than me, except perhaps Parris Glendening.” For six years while a member of the Baltimore City Council, Schaefer would refuse to call Mfume any name other than “Councilman Muffin,” while Mfume repeatedly referred to Schaefer as “Mayor So What.”

After Schaefer became governor and Mfume was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1987, “we realized we had to work together,” Mfume told the audience. Following negotiations initiated by Schaefer, the two men agreed to meet at a small coffee shop off I-295 midway between Baltimore and Washington and “bury the hatchet.”

The obscure location was necessary, Mfume said, so both had plausible grounds to deny they had ever talked.

But talk they did, “and we slowly, over time, developed a mutual admiration and respect.”

Senator Mikulski also placed special emphasis on the mayor’s stubbornness and how she fought him as a city council member.

In a eulogy that at times seemed more like a critique, Mikulski told the funeral crowd that Baltimore’s “defining moment” was the battle over building an expressway through Fells Point in the 1970s.

Mikulski said that she and other citizens organized SCAR (Southeast Council Against the Road) to stop the highway project. “Schaefer didn’t go for this. He thought he knew best,” Mikulski said. He blocked her attempt to stop the road on the City Council.

But eventually, she said, he listened to her and compromised. The result was that I-95 now goes through the Ft. McHenry Tunnel and Fells Point is a thriving waterfront community.

(This interpretation has been a source of controversy in recent commentary about the East-West Expressway and Schaefer’s legacy. See here.)

When Mikulski became a U.S. Senator in 1987, she and then-Governor Schaefer developed a close rapport based on “helping people” and getting the most aid possible from Washington for the state and Baltimore city.

She recalled that Schaefer had a motto regarding federal aid: “The buck stops here – and the more the better.”

Following today’s services, Schaefer’s casket was taken up Charles Street in a funeral procession led by the Baltimore Police motorcycle patrol, then transported via I-83 to his burial at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

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