Reports of Schaefer's nuttiness have been greatly exaggerated


CHICAGO -- Mayor Richard M. Daley leaned across th banquet table and lowered his voice a little. "Schaefer," he said. "I keep reading these things. Is he OK? Or what?"

It took me a second.

Our Schaefer? I said. I mean Maryland's Schaefer? Is that who you're talking about?

"Sure," he said. "Who else?"

I didn't even know that you knew him, I said.

Daley looked shocked. "Everybody knows him. And I keep reading these things. I read it just the other day somewhere. About . . . you know."

That he's . . .

"Crazy," Daley said. "So what's going on? What's happening with him?"

I didn't know exactly what to say. I was in Chicago to make a speech and was now learning that people all around the country apparently have gotten the idea that William Donald Schaefer is seriously nuts. That he is wandering around Annapolis in his birthday suit with a muffin pan on his head reciting lines from King Lear.

Can I ask you something? I asked Daley. Do you actually see the bad mail that people send you?

"Oh, sure," Daley said. "I read that stuff. You got to. You gotta know what's going on."

And have you ever reacted to a letter you thought was unfair or mean? A letter written by an ordinary citizen?

"Oh, sure," Daley said.

You have?

"Yeah," Daley said. "I got this letter from a woman about this guy I fired. Really angry letter. And so I called her up and I said: 'This is Richard Daley, the mayor.' "

Yeah? Just like that?

"Yeah," Daley said. "And I told her about this guy and I said: 'Would you hire this guy? Would you give this guy a job? Would you want him on your board of directors? No? Then why should I!' "

And did everybody say you were nuts for calling the woman?

"No," Daley said. "It wasn't a big thing. It was two people talking. People talk to you; you talk to them. That's all it was."

Well, I said, what Schaefer has done is a little more than that. He went to a guy's home. He had state police call on another person. He has written rude letters. Maybe that is a sign of being crazy. Or maybe just a sign that this is his last term.

"But Schaefer's not really . . . ? You know?" Daley said.

Nuts? I said. Naw, I don't think so. But I'll ask him next time I see him.

"Yeah," Daley said with a laugh. "You do that."

I think most people in Maryland have reacted to the stories of Schaefer's mental state with a certain amount of amusement. I think few took it absolutely seriously.

But this is an age of mass media, and the Schaefer story has become a national and even international one. And people outside of Maryland are taking it very seriously.

I knew that when a Denver radio station called and asked me to go on and talk about how crazy Schaefer was.

"It's a big story," the guy from the station said. "Everybody in Coloradois talking about it."

C'mon, I said.

"No, really," he said. "They read that story in USA Today."

USA Today ran a big story about Schaefer on March 15 on the top of page 3. It quoted Maryland House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. saying of the governor's recent behavior: "It's bizarre, to say the least. He's alienated just about everybody I know at this point."

Although Mitchell's quote was pretty juicy, there was nothing really new in the article, and when you were done, you had to stop and think: the top of page 3? In a national newspaper? This story rates that?

L "So will you go on and talk about it?" the Denver guy asked.

When? I said.

"Sunday at 6 a.m. your time," he said.

Isn't 6 a.m. my time, 4 a.m. Denver time?

"Yes," he said. "It's a one-hour call-in show."

A call-in show? At 4 in the morning? And you think people in Colorado will want to call in and talk about Governor Schaefer of Maryland for an hour?

"Oh, sure," he said. "You come on, talk about his mental health, weopen the phone lines and . . ."

Wait a second, I said. This has gone too far. Schaefer's not walking around with a funny hat on his head and his hand stuck in his jacket thinking he's Napoleon. He may act like he's Napoleon, but he doesn't really think he is Napoleon.

"So you'll come on the show?" the guy asked.

No, I said.

"It could be very good," he said.

Nothing that requires me to get up at 6 a.m. on a Sunday could be very good, I said.

But all this made me stop and think. And I took out my copy of

the Maryland Constitution and found what I was looking for in Article II, Section 6, subsection (c):

"The General Assembly, by the affirmative vote of three-fifths of all its members in joint session, may adopt a resolution declaring that the Governor or Lieutenant Governor is unable by reason of physical or mental disability to perform his duties of office."

So if people really do believe the governor has gone bonkers, the General Assembly has a responsibility to act.

After the Assembly passes a resolution, the Court of Appeals would hold a hearing to decide if Schaefer were mentally disabled and should be removed from office.

We don't know exactly what kind of hearing the court would hold, but we can guess the court would hear testimony from the people who thought the governor was crazy.

Those in the General Assembly, for instance. Or those in the media. Or those people who have written him nasty letters and those who have been all over TV talking endlessly about how Schaefer has berated them.

It goes without saying, of course, that all those people first would have to prove they are sane.

So I'm guessing Schaefer doesn't have much to worry about.

MONDAY: An interview with Governor Schaefer in which I ask him if he is nuts.

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