Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maryland's lost icon

There are certain people one associates with Maryland. Cal Ripken. H.L. Menken. John Unitas.

One of those people synonymous with Maryland passed yesterday.
William Donald Schaefer, the dominant political figure of the last half-century of Maryland history, died Monday after a "do-it-now" career that changed the face of Baltimore while bringing a burst of energy to the city he loved. He was 89.
William Donald Schaefer was Maryland. No one before or since has dominated Maryland politics like Schaefer did in his heyday. He served 4 terms as Mayor of Bawlmer, 2 terms as Governor, and a couple of terms as State Comptroller for good measure. And he did it with a style all his own.

Schaefer transcended political labels. I voted for him every time he ran for whatever office he was pursuing. His party? Which office? Didn't matter. Willie Don Schaefer flat out got things done. Positive things.

Schaefer converted Baltimore from "Cleveland by the Bay" into the kind of place that actually attracts tourists (and their money). He acted to keep businesses in Maryland when his fellow Dems were actively trying to tax the bejeesus out of anything that moved (Maryland motto: "If you can imagine it, we can tax it").

But the most important thing WDS did, IMO, was take Maryland's third-world quality highway system and convert it into the East Coast's finest in the span of only 8 years. This is no exaggeration. Baltimore/Washington International Airport used to only be accessible via a 2-lane highway (actually a paved-over cattle trail) in the 1980's. Seriously, can you think of anything more third-world than that?

Willie Don could be a buffoon, to be sure. But it was calculated buffoonery. It was his self-deprecating way of calling attention to Maryland, and particularly to Bawlmer, HIS city.

RIP Willie Don. There'll never be another one like you.