William Donald Schaefer's Real Legacy


Now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navy.

When William Donald Schaefer—the former mayor of Baltimore, former governor of Maryland, former comptroller of Maryland, and infamous boor—died last month, the obit columns were filled with enthusiastic tributes to his legacy. Now Edward Ericson Jr. has written a much more critical account of Schaefer's record for the Baltimore City Paper. I have some disagreements with the article, and I think it's deeply odd for Ericson to write that "even" the Cato Institute opposes stadium subsidies, as though that stance should be some sort of surprise. But the thrust of the piece is right on, and it's well worth reading for anyone interested in the last few decades of American municipal history. As Ericson writes, "something like a Cult of Schaefer spread across the nation, infecting cities as diverse as Hartford and Cleveland, Ohio, with its brand of evangelistic showmanship, voracious consumption of federal dollars, undemocratic public-private partnerships, and media razzle-dazzle." And at its heart, Ericson argues, was a man who

amalgamated the worst aspects of both the bald-faced institutional corruption of the machine era and the sophisticated college-educated incompetence and deceit of the reform era. The combination is everywhere evident in Baltimore, from its crumbling infrastructure and collapsing buildings to its shrinking, shirking tax base and billowing pension crisis. If Schaefer's outsized personality masked all this during his reign, it is only fair to ask: What keeps the state's political class from noticing today?

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. How can the guy be so great if his legacy is Baltimore.

    1. Because there’s a reason they’re called “Baltimorons”.

    2. ^^THIS^^

      If Baltimore is an icon of progressive leadership in America, we need to run as fast as we can. Baltimore, outside of a small tourist district on the water, is a fucking ghetto.

  2. Don’t blame me, I voted for Carcetti!

  3. Baltimore is a shithole of amazing proportions. Guys like this asshole fleece cities for their own power and wealth and leave…Baltimore in their wake.

    1. I took a Baltimore in Maryland once.

  4. Schaeffer flourished precisely because the systems he oversaw were so broken. After he died I saw several television interviews where people explained why they thought he was so great. Usually it involved some inane problem they had had with city bureaucracy, and how they somehow relayed it to Schaeffer, who personally fixed the problem for them. What they fail to realize is that if the guy had been so great they wouldn’t have had their stupid problem in the first place. Schaeffer relied on a system that would create needless obstacles in people’s lives so that he could personally fix them. It made him feel special and important, and it solidified his power over the City of Baltimore.

  5. …don’t overlook that Schaefer was also Baltimore Mayor Thomas “Big Tommy” J. D’Alesandro’s right-hand man in 1947… learning the ropes of corrupt machine politics.

    D’Alesandro’s daughter, Nancy Pelosi, also learned a few things about politics from her dad.

  6. I’m too busy hating O’Malley to slosh about in ancient history.

  7. But the fact remains that Baltimore was a great town in the Schaeffer era. His successors managed to squander the legacy and drag it down to the shithole we all avoid today.

    1. How so? I did my undergraduate work there during the Schaefer era, and even back then, the only thing propping it up was massive aid from the state (a/k/a Montgomery County taxpapers).

      1. The Bandstand, The Famous Ballroom, Harborplace when it was a novelty, the resurrection of Federal Hill, Little Italy at its peak, a relatively safe Charles Village…

        1. Oh, yes, and the Orioles when they weren’t a joke. Wasn’t it Schaeffer who told Irsay to shove it up his ass? The article mentions, but does not dwell on, the retail responsiveness of city government at that time (certainly not the case now).

          AFAIK, Schaeffer didn’t steal food money from poor people.

    2. Baltimore hasn’t been a “great town” for 100 years or more. It was never anything more than a smaller, more poorly situated version of Philadelphia.

      The entire city should be turned into a “free enterprise” zone, where a person can start a business without being taxed and regulated to death. Let business owners buy derelict property and put up whatever buildings they need to carry out their business, without governmental interference. In an increasingly abandoned, derelict city, no existing structure should be considered sacred. Especially not all that ugly crap I see whenever I visit Baltimore.

      Anything else is just shifting Other People’s Money around to one favored group or another, which is largely how the city got to be where it is now.

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