Thursday, April 21, 2011

R.I.P. Willie Don!

Being born in 1979, William Donald Schaefer (mayor of Baltimore from 1971-1987, governor of Maryland 1987-1995) was always a familiar figure to me growing up, but I didn't fully grasp who he was and what he meant to Baltimore until I was much older.

I probably never will fully grasp it.

Schaefer passed away earlier this week, at the age of 89. People say he was hands down the greatest mayor the city of Baltimore ever had, and quite possibly one of the best mayors any city in America has ever had.

Much of the reasoning for that high praise can be found in this Esquire article, published in the mid-80's when Schaefer was getting coast-to-coast props for cleaning up Baltimore and making it a tourist destination at a time when American cities were dying (for example, in its first year of operation, Harborplace outdrew Disneyworld!). Esquire calls the article one of the best they've ever published and while reading it, it's not hard to tell why.

But for me, a die-hard Baltimore sports fan, two of Schaefer's biggest victories were getting the Orioles a new stadium, thus guaranteeing that they wouldn't follow the Colts out of the city, and lobbying hard for the NFL's return to Baltimore, after the Colts left and broke Schaefer's, and everyone else's heart, in 1984.

In a nutshell, Schaefer believed that the city of Baltimore should have everything, despite it's "second city" image. He didn't care if bigger cities like Washington, DC or Philadelphia were just a short distance away. And in the end, the city of Baltimore looks like it does today thanks in large part to the work Schaefer did throughout his life as a public servant.

He will be missed and there probably won't ever be another politician in the same vein.

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