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Ballot Stuffing

Posted 8/19/1998

The Miles River Yacht Club was racing Aug. 12, and many folks enjoyed watching the distant sailboats glide with ease over the Eastern Shore's placid waters. Among them was William Donald Schaefer--guest of honor at retired Circuit Court Judge John C. North's riverfront home.

"Hi, my name is Schaefer" was how the former governor and current candidate for state comptroller greeted many guests, including Elmer Horsey, former Chestertown mayor and current treasurer of the resurrected politician's campaign.

This is how the Eastern Shore typically raises money for statewide office seekers--the backyard campaign stop attended by the politically strong and the business-oriented. North's digs hosted not just a roll call of the Eastern Shore's Democratic faithful but also a gathering of many who fondly remember dealing with Schaefer when his mailing address was the governor's mansion.

North, who was appointed to chair the Maryland Critical Areas Commission by then-Gov. Schaefer, and North's neighbor Edward Hale sponsored the event. Hale, who started off in the trucking business, says he used to pay his own way to accompany Schaefer on many of his economic-development trips around the globe. Now he journeys by seaplane from his Miles River vacation home to his current job as chairperson of Baltimore-based First Mariner Bank (a 15-minute commute).

Guests were entertained with one-on-one conversations with Willie Don and treated to a short stump speech, consisting mostly of Schaefer listing his previous job titles: Baltimore City Council member, mayor of Baltimore, governor of Maryland. Schaefer appeared upbeat--surprise, surprise--about his reception statewide, especially on the Eastern Shore, with which he often had rocky relations during his State House tenure. The Shore turned against Schaefer en masse in the 1990 gubernatorial election, largely as a result of his support for gun control, prompting his notorious characterization of the region as "shithouse."

"That remark was an unfortunate incident," Schaefer says now. "It's an amazing thing that when you're out of office--they love you."

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Tydings dropped by for a quick visit, as did many local Eastern Shore businessfolk and elected officials. Even Republican Dorchester County Commission Chairperson Jeff Powell stopped by to support the man many in the county credit with seeing more potential in Cambridge than even its own leaders did. As governor Schaefer tossed succulent morsels of pork to Dorchester County, investments that now are attracting a Hyatt resort and thrusting the county into the statewide gambling debate.

Of course, should he be elected comptroller Schaefer would return to the a seat on the powerful state Board of Public Works, which approves large state-funded projects, and on which he sat as governor. This time, he insists, he'll be the man insisting "no money will be spent"--a bit of a change from the "do it now" mayor and governor who wanted to spend, spend, spend.

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