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'Mayor Schaefer' idea not widely popular


Gov. William Donald Schaefer has confided that he's thinking, just thinking, of running for mayor of Baltimore in 1995. Well, many Baltimore voters say, think some more.

"No way would I vote for him again," said Louis Hessler, 68, of Hamilton. "He's left the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland in a terrible financial situation. 'If you've got it, spend it.' That's his motto."

"All the antics that have been going on recently," said Thomas Cox, a North Baltimore business owner. "I don't think he should hold any office again."

"The more I see of him, the more unstable I think he is," said Merrill Bell, who lives in Mount Washington.

Nearly 48 percent of Baltimore voters surveyed in The Sun Poll said they would vote for "someone else" if Mr. Schaefer were running for mayor and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had moved on to another office. Thirty percent said Mr. Schaefer would be their choice.

Of course, any such candidacy is still a political daydream. The next mayoral election will be held in 1995. Mr. Schaefer will leave the State House in January of that year. After two terms as governor, he cannot succeed himself.

Some of the governor's confidants brag privately that Mr. Schaefer will run and win big -- just as he's always done. In his four mayoral terms, Mr. Schaefer blustered and prodded and coaxed a tired old town into an urban renaissance. He was the father figure, the tyrant, the cheerleader who came to personify his city. Public opinion polls found him wildly popular.

But that was then -- before the recession, before five years of spats with legislators, before infamous episodes of sniping at citizens.

Even Baltimore voters who liked Mr. Schaefer as mayor aren't anxious to see him back at City Hall, the poll and interviews with voters showed.

"He was OK back then," said Ruby Wright, 68. "But he spends too much on things that make him look good. Everything he does he does for himself -- building another stadium and we have to pay all these taxes. That's one thing I think was uncalled for. The Inner Harbor -- that's his, too."

Voters also mention their uneasiness with Mr. Schaefer's prickly personal behavior.

"He can't reach any kind of compromise with the legislators," said Ms. Bell. "The kinds of arguments he picks -- he just picks at people. He hasn't been able to negotiate with people and reach solutions. I think he would have the same problems in the city."

"I just don't like the man," said Philip George, 76, of Southeast Baltimore. "I don't like what he's done since he's been governor."

How does the volatile Mr. Schaefer respond? With uncharacteristic mellowness:

"Hmm. Ten percent more than I thought I'd get," he said when told the poll results. The criticism, he added, reflects the unhappiness of the recession-weary public.

"People are frustrated, and who else are they going to be angry at?" the governor asked. "The recession is going to end one day, and everyone will see we came out of it better than most other states."

Voters who respond to public opinion polls apparently don't think so. Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research, of Columbia, said he's taken polls in 22 states over the past four months -- and Mr. Schaefer has received the lowest performance ratings of any of the 22 governors.

But low ratings don't mean Mr. Schaefer is without admirers.

"I'd vote for him," said Mark Grifo, 35, a salesman who lives in Hunting Ridge. "When he was mayor of the city, he brought with him a real cheerleader quality. I like a grandstander. I think the city pulls up behind him and follows him around. We need a mayor like him again."

What about the nutty behavior? Mr. Grifo says it's just Mr. Schaefer being himself. "You could say he was crazy as mayor before, jumping in the pond at the aquarium with his duckies. You could say he's crazy then, the way he handled the City Council and all. He wasn't. He was a leader."

Mary Apicella, who lives in Little Italy, says Mr. Schaefer would get her vote. And what about his irate notes to taxpayers or visits to letter-writing critics? "I think he's just trying to give it a personal touch."

Bonnie Walls, a nurse from Hampden, also wants him back at City Hall.

"It's kind of hard to capture the old magic, as they say, but maybe he knows tricks that the administrations that came after him don't seem to know. Things seem to have gone downhill. We can't do any worse than we're doing."

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