Schaefer launches drive to rescue city


Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, exasperated with what he views as ineffectual leadership in the city he once governed, is convening a meeting of business and academic executives next week to devise a "master plan" to address Baltimore's many ills.

Mr. Schaefer, Baltimore's mayor from 1971 to 1987, sent letters to about 30 people in recent weeks, inviting them to the Center Club in downtown Baltimore on Sept. 7 -- five days before the Democratic primary election between Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and his challenger, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

In the letter, Mr. Schaefer dismissed the efforts of the Schmoke administration as inadequate, a view he has often expressed in the past.

But Mr. Schaefer, 73, also contended that the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), once a powerful coalition of the city's business interests, has failed to reverse the city's decline.

Elsewhere in the letter, Mr. Schaefer laments what he regards as the city's decline -- a faltering economy, a crippled school system and persistent crime.

If nothing else, Mr. Schaefer's missive demonstrates that even without a public office, he is not yet ready to fade from public life.

"I think he's itching for things to do," said one business official with whom Mr. Schaefer recently discussed his proposed meeting.

Some of those who have received invitations, such as Bernard C. Trueschler, former chairman of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., J. Stevenson Peck, the retired head of Signet Bank/Maryland, and Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., chairman of the board at Crown Central Petroleum Corp., were all close to Mr. Schaefer when he was in office, often spear heading business support for his policies. The invitations also went to some academic leaders, including William E. Kirwan, president of the University of Maryland at College Park, who said he intends to attend.

Election link denied

Although Mr. Schaefer's antipathy toward Mr. Schmoke is widely known, as is his support for Mrs. Clarke, some close to the former governor deny that the timing of the meeting was an effort to thwart Mr. Schmoke's re-election.

"We think the economic decline of the city is getting very steep," said one longtime business executive involved in organizing the session. "The idea was to get together and talk about how to fix Baltimore.

"It's got nothing to do with the election," the executive said. "It's a coffee and doughnuts bull session."

Still, the Schmoke campaign did not miss the insult -- nor the opportunity to return one of its own. "Mayor Schmoke, who in eight years has accomplished a great deal, is cleaning up the mess and the rot that Mayor Schaefer left him," said Schmoke campaign spokesman Craig Kirby.

"I guess former Mayor Schaefer is now feeling badly that he left the city in such a mess," he said.

The Schmoke campaign has argued that the mayor has stabilized downtown with the development of such projects as the Columbus Center, has brought millions of federal dollars to the city, and has turned back the homicide rate. In addition, the mayor depicts himself as a leader willing to innovate in the schools and housing.

Mr. Schaefer says he's not impressed, contending Mr. Schmoke has greatly inflated his accomplishments. "He's taking credit for everything done since the creation of the world," Mr. Schaefer said. "He brought water to the earth."

In an interview last night, Mr. Schaefer used far stronger language to condemn the Schmoke administration than he did in his letter. "I'm just as fed up with the downtown falling apart, with crime increasing under him, the dirty city, schools decaying," said Mr. Schaefer, who left the governor's mansion in January after serving two terms. "I think it's sad."

Unusual target

More unusual than Mr. Schaefer's criticism of Mr. Schmoke is his disappointment with the Greater Baltimore Committee, which for years was associated with many of downtown Baltimore's most celebrated achievements including the Charles Center redevelopment and the building of the Inner Harbor.

"I think he feels the organization is essentially inactive and defunct," said one business leader who met recently with Mr. Schaefer. "He feels it's time to form a new organization that can deal with the city's problems, notwithstanding Schmoke and the GBC."

The current chairman of the GBC is William L. Jews, chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland. Mr. Jews is also a close friend of Mayor Schmoke. Mr. Jews could not be reached last night. Jeff Valentine, a GBC spokesman, said he was unaware of Mr. Schaefer's initiative.

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