Economic Development

No Behind Left Unwatched

Maryland's comptroller is a vigorous 84 years old. A little too vigorous, some think.
by | May 2006
 

Maryland's budget is running a surplus of over $1 billion, making possible the biggest spending increases the state has seen in at least a decade. Annapolis has been abuzz all year with talk of freezing tuition, cutting property taxes and making big investments in education, public safety and services for the disabled. So why, amidst all this good fiscal news, is the state's chief financial officer in serious political trouble?

It has more to do with his roving eye than anything else. In February, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer was caught on videotape admiring the derriere of a gubernatorial aide 60 years his junior and instructing her to turn around so he could look at it again. The incident has changed the dynamic of Schaefer's reelection campaign.

Schaefer, the celebrated former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, has always seemed an outsized figure as comptroller. Occupying what is normally a low-profile position, he has taken regular stabs at former Governor Parris Glendening, a fellow Democrat, while serving as a fairly reliable supporter of the current Republican incumbent, Robert Ehrlich. It was that party apostasy that drew Peter Franchot, a veteran legislator, into the Democratic primary. "I'm not running against Comptroller Schaefer, I'm running against the Ehrlich- Schaefer administration policies," he says.

Schaefer, who will turn 85 shortly before the election, has been a little more eccentric even than is his usual wont this year. He has opened meetings of the Board of Public Works with long monologues unrelated to the scheduled agenda. At one recent session, he booed a portrait of Glendening and surprised some spectators with a half-hour tirade against Ehrlich, his erstwhile ally.

But that probably wouldn't have hurt much had it not been for the incident with the aide. Schaefer not only was reluctant to apologize but said that "the one who is offended is me." Those remarks became as notorious as the actual event. "It wasn't just the incident itself, it was his behavior after," says Matthew Crenson, a John Hopkins political scientist. "Now some of his eccentric behavior will get attention."

Franchot insists he doesn't want to make a "federal case" out of Schaefer's indiscretions--he wants to wage the campaign on more substantial subjects. But he'd better hope that octogenarian ogling is still an issue in Maryland when the primary is held in September. It's probably the only chance he has of ousting a political legend from office.

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