The friends of William Donald Schaefer are giving him an edifice complex. Also, a complex of edifices. In an effort to assure Schaefer that his good works are appreciated and will be remembered as long as there are potholes in alleys, they're naming structures hither and yon for the governor of Maryland.
It's like the old beer commercial: Schaefer -- the one name to put on a building, when you're naming more than one.
As documented by Sun reporter Ed Gunts, a sort of orgy of Schaefer memorializing has broken out across the state, with plazas here, circles there, and buildings everywhere, either because:
a) A grateful but coy populace, having kept its love for Schaefer somewhat well-hidden over the last four years, is suddenly breathless to lavish not only its long pent-up affection but more immortality upon Schaefer than any public official since the 17th-century Calverts;
b) Those most intimate with the governor have made the rounds, pleading with officials, "He's soooo depressed about leaving office. Can't you do just a little something to make him feel loved? A tiny new stadium, perhaps, or an airport?"
Soon you'll be able to leave the William Donald Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore or the William Donald Schaefer Life Sciences Institute at Baltimore City Community College, drive past the William Donald Schaefer Promenade at the National Aquarium and the William Donald Schaefer Circle at Camden Yards, hop on a plane at the William Donald Schaefer International Terminal Center at Baltimore-Washington Airport, and go to the William Donald Schaefer Government Services Building in Frederick, or William Donald Schaefer Hall at St. Mary's College, or the William Donald Schaefer Center for Superconductivity Research at the University of Maryland College Park and, with a slight detour, drive home via the William Donald Schaefer Bridge over the Severn River in Annapolis (What, we haven't renamed the Severn the William Donald Schaefer River yet?) and head toward the William Donald Schaefer Tower in Baltimore.
And these are just some of the school buildings, office buildings, towers, circles, plazas, promenades, bridges and hotels set to carry the Schaefer name into perpetuity.
Naturally, there's precedent for such a thing. Albert C. Ritchie, the great man who was governor of Maryland for four terms, had a highway named for him. Gov. Herbert O'Conor finished two terms and had the state office complex named for him. (Had things worked out differently, Marvin Mandel might have had a racetrack named for him, but . . .)
But here's Schaefer, apparently closing out a career that includes not only two terms as governor but four as mayor, plus several in the Baltimore City Council, and his friends have answered the ancient question, "What's in a name?" by declaring, "Nothing, if it's not attached to a building."
Understand something here: Schaefer deserves to be remembered well. When the history of his time is written, it'll say that he brought the city of Baltimore back from the grave. That's a giant epitaph for any man's political tombstone.
It'll also say that, as governor of Maryland for two terms, he had his ups and downs, but that he governed honestly and generally continued a philosophy that looked out for people with the biggest problems. That's a pretty good epitaph, too.
The problem with Schaefer is: If somebody's not telling him how much he's loved, he assumes he's unloved. He goes into a funk between testimonials.
The problem with the people closest to Schaefer is: They buy into it, and then they overcompensate.
As Ed Gunts reported, Lainy LeBow-Sachs, the governor's public relations director, said, "The outpouring is phenomenal. Everyone wants to pay tribute to him before he leaves office."
This is known as wishful thinking. The last four years, when Schaefer's popularity polls plummeted, showed clearly that everyone doesn't love the governor. And that's OK. He's lived in the public arena for parts of four decades now, and along the way, it's inevitable to make some enemies.
This is a slight case of memorial overkill by the friends of the governor. It's OK to love Schaefer. It's OK to shout his name. But you don't have to put it on every building in the state of Maryland.