For two nostalgic hours yesterday evening, William Donald Schaefer once again was the sun around which all others orbited in Baltimore's City Hall.
But this time, they were not hovering around him because of his power, which is long gone, or to bask in his reflected glory, which is now historic rather than contemporary. They weren't even nice to him out of fear of his famously withering temper, which by all accounts has mellowed in retirement.
This time, it was simple affection that prompted hundreds of well-wishers to come squeeze Schaefer's hand or clap him on the back -- that and the occasion of his 75th birthday celebration in the place where he first surfaced as one of Maryland's most intriguing politicians, if not its one true original.
"If this is anyone's house, it's certainly his," the current occupant, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, told the overflowing crowd, each of whom paid $25 to attend the party.
Schmoke, whose relationship with his predecessor has often been testy, joked that his staff had been nervous when the photographs of Schaefer, whose birthday was Saturday, started going up in the City Hall Rotunda in anticipation of yesterday's party. "Is he coming to reclaim the ground again?" Schmoke said they wondered.
Only for one evening.
And for that one evening, he attracted dozens and dozens of politicians, Cabinet officers, bureaucrats and average citizens who had interacted with him in some way during his 40 years in public life -- first as city councilman, then as mayor and finally as governor.
U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who remembered receiving a political comeuppance at his hands when she joined the City Council, was there. So was U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who also once served on the City Council with Schaefer.
And so, too, was Rosaline Lundsford, who operated the City Hall switchboard for 25 years, many of them during Schaefer's tenure.
"He used to call in the mornings to make sure his department heads were at their desks," she recalled with a laugh.
Joseph J. DiBlasi, the former city councilman whom Mayor Schaefer once famously called "a dumb bastard," said he wouldn't have missed coming.
"It's a way of saying thanks," said DiBlasi, who long ago re-emerged on Schaefer's good side. "I think his real friends are here, and that's why I came."
Schaefer, trim in a dark suit and tie with pumpkins on it, stood in a receiving line for 45 minutes, shaking hands and having his photograph taken with old friends. Inside, the partygoers were treated to the photo montage of his life, which included a shot of a 5-year-old William Donald Schaefer in a white sailor cap at Marley Creek.
His affinity for costumes, of course, never changed. As mayor, he was also pictured in an old-fashioned striped bathing suit, holding a skimmer hat in one hand and a rubber duck in the other, cheerleading for the then-new Bal- timore Aquarium.
"He really gave government a soul," said Stuart Robinson, who worked as a lawyer in the City Council during Schaefer's mayoral years.
Schaefer's eyes welled up as the Morgan State University Choir serenaded him. And his thank you to the gathering was humble.
"If you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, people who care," he said, "great things are bound to happen."
Pub Date: 11/04/96