ANNAPOLIS -- Is Gov. William Donald Schaefer sane?
"My mind's as clear as it's ever been," the governor assured reporters yesterday.
The mental health issue popped up as a result of the governor's remark last Friday comparing the Eastern Shore with a "s - - - house" and the numerous angry letters he has mailed to critics in recent months.
An Anne Arundel County woman claims she gave Mr. Schaefer a "thumbs down" sign as she passed him on the street months ago and promptly received a particularly venomous personal note from the governor, telling her: "Your action only exceeds the ugliness of your face."
Callers to the "Ron Smith Show" on WBAL Radio early Tuesday afternoon also wondered aloud whether the governor's elevator was stopping on all floors.
One Salisbury listener brought up the s-word (as in sanity) and it immediately provoked a telephone call and an on-air response from the state's chief executive, who is an avid talk show listener.
"That young man called to ask how I feel and I feel fine," said Governor Schaefer. He did not deny sending the "ugliness" note but he insisted the woman "didn't give me a thumbs down, she gave us a finger up.
"I'm supposed to stand there and take it? Not me, not me," he told WBAL's Mr. Smith.
Part of the problem, aides insist, is that the press does not understand the governor's combative style or humor.
In four years in Annapolis, the 69-year-old former Baltimore mayor has demonstrated that he is quick to anger, slow to forget slights, and often single-minded of purpose.
Demonstrating that unpredictability, Governor Schaefer took off on an unscheduled tour of two legislative committee hearing rooms yesterday afternoon, stopping just briefly enough to tell startled lawmakers he was making good on his promise to appear before them personally.
But rather than taking the opportunity to lobby for administration bills, he used the time, in part, to decry what he described as "sarcastic, nasty" letters from citizens.
NB "I guess you're never a king in your own kingdom," he told mem
bers of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee following an earlier visit to the House Economic Matters Committee.
As for the governor's dispute with the Eastern Shore, Mr. Schaefer told reporters yesterday that it may have had a positive effect. "It does divert your mind from the war" in the Persian Gulf.
At the same time, the administration has completed another gesture that may mollify insulted constituents on the other side of the bay.
The much-publicized "Reach the Beach" effort is being dismantled, in part, because of Eastern Shore resentment toward the program.
O. James Lighthizer, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, said Eastern Shore legislators including House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, "just didn't like" the highway signs scattered along U.S. 50 on the Eastern Shore.
"For some reason, it was resented by the delegates and I must assume by their constituents as well," Mr. Lighthizer said. "If they don't like it, we'll take it down."