Monday, April 25, 2011

Willie Don's Last Visit to Jimmy's

I strolled outside before and caught the Schaefer motorcade's visit to Fells Point. The motorcade was about 25 minutes late. That may have turned out to be a good thing in that the initial crowd waiting for Schaefer outside of Jimmy's Restaurant - about 30 people - climbed to about 100 by the time the entourage arrived.

Spotted were Senator Barbara Mikulski and Schaefer loyalists Lainy Lebow-Sachs, Mark Wasserman, and Mike Golden. The crowded chanted "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and gave the former mayor and governor a number of spontaneous cheers.

The atmosphere was positive, if a little circus-like - certainly appropriate for the man and the circumstances. I noticed a total of three helicopters hovering in the vicinity at different times.

Finally, when the motorcade prepared to leave, I heard Golden say, "We don't want to be late," then gestured towards the back of the hearse and quipped, "We sure don't want to make him mad."

Schaefer Returns to Annapolis

 If it is ever possible to say that it was a perfect day for a viewing, today was it.

My morning car appointment taking later than expected, I decided to drive down to Annapolis to attend the State House component of Governor Schaefer’s viewing. Ironically, I live only about two miles or so from City Hall, where the former mayor and governor will lie in repose through the end of Tuesday, but I have a conflict tonight and work tomorrow. So trekking down to the State House – which I have not visited since I finished up my stint in the Ehrlich Administration in December 2006 – was my best option.

Signs directed people to the Naval Academy stadium parking lot. But there being no evidence of any sort of infrastructure for ferrying people to the State House, I drove on and parked in the Visitor Center garage. That proved a fortuitous decision.

Not only was the brief walk through historic Annapolis sunny and pleasant, there was no line snaking around State Circle, as I had feared could be the case. Uniformed DGS officers doubling as ushers directed visitors to the front of the State House in a friendly manner. A gubernatorial proclamation celebrating Schaefer’s life sat on an easel just outside the door. Right inside the doorway sat Schaefer’s casket, covered with an American flag. Despite a report in the Baltimore Sun stating that Schaefer wanted an open casket, it was closed. Two uniformed Maryland State Police officer stood at either end of the casket. A few minutes after I arrived, two Baltimore Police Officers in dress uniforms took their places.

People weren’t filing around the casket in a manner similar to the viewings which occasionally occur in the U. S. Capitol. Instead they cycled to the other side of the State House’s great foyer, mingling with other visitors and watching a slide presentation of moments from the gubernatorial phase of Schaefer’s long career. I recognized and chatted a bit with Aaron Tomarchio, Chief of Staff to David Craig, Harford County Executive.

The whole experience took less than a half hour – and would have taken less had I not gotten lost finding my way back to the Visitor Center. I’m glad I did it.

The motorcade bringing Schaefer back to Baltimore is expected to make a stop in Fells Point. If I manage to get a picture of it, I will post it here. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Judging Schaefer by the Company He Kept

In case you missed it, WBAL TV had a great segment Monday night featuring interviews with four people it described as comprising William Donald Schaefer's "inner circle" - Mark Wasserman, Lainy Lebow-Sachs, Mike Golden, and Bishop Robinson.

The measure of a great man is the quality of the people with whom he surrounded himself. William Donald Schaefer was no exception. During my career I have been fortunate to work closely with a number of people who were, to varying extents, part of the Schaefer universe.

Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley had a great bipartisan friendship with the former governor and mayor. I hope one of the TV stations solicits her thoughts and reminiscences as well. In fact, Schaefer carved out a Congressional district for her during the 1990 redistricting process which was supposed to ensure her reelection indefinitely. 

When Bentley ran for governor in 1994, Bob Ehrlich inherited the district. He too enjoyed a good warm relationship with the occasionally irascible Schaefer, as evidenced by the fanfare with which he restored the notorious Government House fountain designed by Schaefer's companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, to operation. Ehrlich's wife Kendel was a Schaefer favorite as well.

The late Bruce Carlin, a veteran of Schaefer's City Hall security detail and an all-around great guy, joined the Ehrlich political universe as well. I met Everett Fullwood, another great guy and security detail veteran, at Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. He oversaw the Partnership's "Clean Sweep Ambassadors." The tremendous respect he engendered among his team impressed me greatly.

Laurie Schwartz, former head of the Partnership and one of the smartest people for whom I have ever worked, was another Schaeferite. She inherited his vision of a vibrant, necessary, clean and safe Downtown as one of the region's economic engines, and built an organization to help implement it. I think she was a little skeptical when she hired me - me being a Capitol Hill Republican, her a progressive Democrat - but I learned a lot from her, and she definitely impacted my thinking in a number of ways (though don't tell her that).

It was a privilege to work with and get to know all these great people. So, while I never worked for Schaefer myself, I guess I benefited from his legacy as well.

Monday, April 18, 2011

William Donald Schaefer: RIP

William Donald Schaefer – former City Councilman, Council President, Mayor, Governor, and Comptroller – passed away tonight at the age of 89.

I suppose the news wasn’t terribly surprising given his age and failing health. Still, it was a poignant moment in that, for many Marylanders, Schaefer has been a constant fixture across our lives.

The man seemed to wear many personas comfortably. He was the cranky curmudgeon with a knack for courting and cursing the press. He was the autocrat who used fear to mobilize city bureaucrats prone to inertia. He was a man of duty who relinquished a job he loved to pursue one he wasn’t sure he wanted. He was kind, spiteful, melodramatic, serious, compassionate, outrageous, and authentic.  Some people said he was a little crazy. If so, it was definitely of the “like a fox” variety.

He understood the power of branding in politics long before it became common orthodoxy. He carefully positioned himself as the colorful, impatient, yet ultimately likeable city cheerleader and clown. By raising goodwill for himself, he built the political clout he needed to push through an ambitious agenda.  By jumping in that seal tank, Schaefer not only entertained the voters, but he made himself invulnerable to his political adversaries.

Like I said…crazy like a fox.

Occasionally I passed him in the halls of the State House (he was always very kind, even courtly). I was always a bit in awe of the man. He represented living history. He was a legendary mayor, maybe even one of the best in American history.  And, he personified his state like no one ever has, or likely will again.

When I was a junior at St. Paul’s School, he came to speak to one of our weekly assemblies. He was mayor at the time, and his visit coincided with unfolding controversy over a plan to put life preservers in stations around the Inner Harbor. The City Council supported the measure. Schaefer opposed it.

Schaefer gave a brief talk in which he encouraged the students to volunteer in the community, and then opened it up to questions. One of my classmates' questions zeroed in on the life preserver controversy. Exhibiting a kind of muted testiness befitting his audience, Schaefer reiterated his opposition, and pointed out the project’s cost.

“Well, isn’t saving lives worth the additional cost?” the student asked.

For once, Schaefer seemed at a loss for words.

Not long after that, Schaefer changed his position on the life preservers. When asked why, he cited his exchange with the student.  

To me, that episode revealed that, despite his bravado and legendary hardheadedness, Don Schaefer was not afraid to change his mind – an increasingly rare commodity in today’s politics.

Schaefer wrote his own epitaph: “He cared.” The fact is, when he cared, we cared. When he got mad about a government failing to serve the people, we got mad. When he cried when the Colts left Baltimore, we cried. And despite his occasional theatrics, we knew he meant it.

Agree or disagree with his politics, he devoted his life to service, and he served his city and state the best way he knew how.

In the end, that’s what matters the most.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Word on Taxing, Spending, and Pretending

Well, it’s tax weekend – I say “tax weekend” instead of “tax day” because federal returns are not due until April 18th this year. I hope you are already done coping with this annual painful ritual.

For me, this is the ideal moment of the year to contemplate the degree of wisdom with which your monies are being spent at all three levels of government.

In a perfect society, citizens can and should be having those contemplations all year round. But I’m not sure that’s realistic. Taxpayers spend their time working, raising their families, and attending to other real world business. They trust their elected officials to make those decisions for them.

For most Americans, the ideal time to stop spending money is when you don’t have it anymore. Still, watching the budget crisis unfolding in Washington, I am not confident that elected officials are ever going to live by the same rules.

One thing that always irks me is the fact that I always wind up paying the feds more money than what I sent to state/local governments combined. To me, the government in Washington is a remote, distant, byzantine force – a black hole which gobbles up money and yields no commensurate result.  

The federal government is an amalgam of programs and agencies enacted over the past eight decades by presidents and congresses of both parties. Many of these programs might have seemed like wisdom when they were enacted. Now they are part of a growing bureaucratic beast whose exact necessity and function I fail to understand.

During tough budgetary times, federal representatives should use this opportunity to turn the flashlight onto spending, eliminating agencies and programs that can be sacrificed while finally taking a meaningful stab at entitlement reform.

But budget politics in Washington is more about chess meets chicken gamesmanship than solutions.

Sure, I believe that some on the GOP side, especially those associated with the Tea Party movement, would like to see federal spending reevaluated and lasting fiscal responsibility restored.

But the President and the Speaker each wants to win the headline war. At the end of this latest budgetary showdown, I believe that the federal government will look pretty much the same as it does now.

Why? I worked on Capitol Hill in 1995, when another group of gung-ho GOP freshmen thought they were going to effect sweeping change. To some extent, they did through the "Contract With America." But when it came to transforming the way Washington does business at a fundamental level, they failed. I expect the new crop of reformist freshmen will have similar experiences.

For the members of Maryland’s ruling Democratic monopoly, the idea of government spending less when it has less to spend is a similarly novel concept.

Each budget cycle begins with the operating assumption that every program is an equal priority deserving new funding, and that none should ever be sacrificed.  That’s why each new session of the Maryland General Assembly during tough budgetary times begins with doomsday rhetoric about budget cuts affecting healthcare programs, education, and other critical areas, and each ends with higher taxes and enactment of a budget larger than the one passed the previous year.

I have read the works of other political columnists and bloggers who complained about the outcome of the 2011 legislative session. I suppose I agree with them, but I find it hard to get worked up over such a predictable outcome.

The Democratic establishment which has ruled this state solidly for much of the past century is still in charge. As long as they keep winning elections, and the state GOP fails to educate voters as to why it is desirable to pare back the size and function of Maryland's 80,000-employee government, you cannot begrudge the Democrats for doing what they have always done.

As for local government, this notion of government adapting to meet challenging times is there, provided you look in the right place.  

In Anne Arundel County, John Leopold is raising property taxes.  In recent memory, another prominent Republican – Governor Bob Ehrlich – increased property taxes. This irritated Ehrlich supporters and allowed state Democrats, specifically then-Mayor Martin O’Malley, to gleefully paint the GOP governor as a tax-and-spender. Ehrlich later rolled back the increase, but the damage was done.

But in Baltimore County, Kevin Kamenetz – an establishment Democrat if ever there was one – is getting it right. His recently unveiled $2.6 billion budget contains no new taxes, eliminates 41 jobs in addition to the 140 announced in December, and grows spending by less than one percent.

While I have occasionally been critical of Kamenetz on this blog, even doing some work for his opponent Ken Holt during the last election, I am impressed by his sanguine approach to budgeting. It’s refreshing to see a government resolve to live within its means without excuses or the usual guilt-inspiring alarmist rhetoric.  Let’s hope Kamenetz’s fiscal responsibility continues, and is emulated by others across Maryland.

It’s been a long time since a conversation over the proper role of government dominated the national discourse. There is no better time for holding such a conversation than when a government’s coffers are running low. 

Let’s hope the next GOP leader – both nationally and in Maryland – embraces this educator role. Right now, people are being asked to sacrifice more for bureaucracies whose scope and purpose they don’t necessarily understand, and which seemingly have little impact on their own daily lives.

It’s time to broaden that understanding.  People deserve to know where exactly their tax dollars are going. Then can they decide whether they are being asked to sacrifice too much.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Checking In With Two Old Friends

Well, your humble narrator is back. Sorry for the delay in posting, but I recently started a new job which has taken up a fair amount of my creative energies. I try to keep my blogging and current professional lives separate, so I will just say I’m working someplace I’m very happy to be – and am proud to have gotten there on my own.

That said, I thought I would check in on two individuals who have been steady fodder for this blog in the past.

The first, Tony Campbell, is the chairman of the Baltimore County GOP Central Committee. As you may remember, he had a few controversies pop up shortly after he assumed his new duties last December. But since then, he’s been operating largely off the radar screen – just as a good party chairman should (Michael Steele, call your office).

His name came up recently, however, when someone shared with me an email he sent to GOP elected officials in Baltimore County, including members of the legislative delegation.

“The April Monthly meeting of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee will be held on Monday, April 11th, 2011 at the Holiday Inn Timonium, 9615 Deereco Road at 7 pm,” he helpfully reminded them. “Hope to see you there!”

I give Chairman Campbell due credit for attempting to build bridges. But, the invitation is a problematic one because it conflicts with a little something called “Sine Die” in Annapolis. Ever heard of it, Chairman Campbell? It’s the session finale of the Maryland General Assembly, and I think it’s fair to say that attendance by legislators is mandatory.

I hope Chairman Campbell continues his efforts to forge good relationships with the party’s elected officials. That said, I hope he doesn’t decide to schedule a future meeting of the Central Committee on July fourth.

The second update concerns my friend and fellow Ehrlich world veteran, Greg Massoni.

As I reported in my last blog entry, this determined Dundalkian followed former Governor Bob Ehrlich to the D. C. office of the international law firm King & Spalding. His new biography on the firm’s website identifies Massoni as a “consultant” to the firm's Government Advocacy and Public Policy Practice Group.

According to the story originally filed by the Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey, Massoni was originally slated to join the firm's "communications shop."

But the truly interesting thing about Massoni’s bio is that it looks like whoever gussied up Paul “Of Counsel” Schurick’s own hagiographic write up took a pass at Greg’s, too.

I see two things worth questioning. The first is Massoni’s contention that he was “director” of the iconic Captain Chesapeake Show on WBFF TV while he worked there as a teenager from 1974-1980.

I grew up in Towson, and used to watch Captain Chesapeake after school almost every day. It was a cultural touchstone for locally-based Gen Xers like me. I even remember my mother taking my sister and me to Toys R Us in Loch Raven to meet the Captain, George Lewis, in person.

A few years later, a friend of the family married the Captain’s daughter, and we got to go to the wedding and subsequent reception. One memory stands out. There was a spot-on lookalike actor who would occasionally appear on the show as Abraham Lincoln, and I remember seeing him. How strange it was to see “Lincoln” wearing a J. C. Penny suit and smoking a cigarette.

Anyway, when someone claims to have had a hand in making such a legendary program a reality, it is a big deal. Still, Massoni never publicly mentioned his role with the show prior to the King & Spalding bio. In fact, his Womble Carlyle bio describes his role at the station as being a “Technician/Director,” and does not mention Captain Chesapeake at all.

The Baltimore Sun’s Laura Vozzella looked into this matter. She spoke to Dwight Weems, the program’s director of record, who seemed foggy as to what exactly Massoni’s role was. In the end, Massoni insisted that he was “one of many” who filled in as the show’s director after Weems’ promotion, and Weems did not quarrel with that contention.

Do I think Massoni filled in and performed directorial duties on the show at some point during his tenure there? Sure, probably. I wrote speeches for Rep. Helen Bentley on occasion when I was a college intern and later a junior full-time staff assistant. But that didn't make me her "speechwriter.”   

The second item was brought to my attention by another veteran of Ehrlich world, who questioned Massoni’s contention that he “oversaw scheduling…for the Ehrlich Administration.”

The tipster in question, who actually worked in the governor’s scheduling office, scoffed at this assertion. So would anyone who knows Ehrlich’s former scheduler, Terry Cox. Feisty and formidable in a Norma Rae kind of way, Ms. Cox maintained an authoritarian grip on scheduling matters. She did this not for reasons of ego, but because she understood the chaos that would result if scheduling became a committee responsibility.

Anyway, one of the running jokes in the administration involved the fates of people who tried to hijack Ms. Cox’s scheduling process. If Massoni was among those who attempted to tangle with Terry the tiger, he didn’t likely fare any better.

Laura Vozzella once called Massoni the “Where’s Waldo” of her column. "Forrest Gump" might be a better analogy. One has to wonder where this would-be participant in great events will turn up next. New Jersey, perhaps?

Anyway, that's the latest. Shoot me any tips if you have them. And, enjoy the emerging warm weather.