Neall: Face to face with Schaefer

A visit by Mayor William Donald Schaefer to the General Assembly was hard to forget. It was an orchestrated military maneuver — you knew he was coming to your committee because the TV tripods were already set up. His arrival looked a lot like a rugby scrum, an odd combination of cameras, reporters, a brace of staff carrying easels and flip charts, and of course, himself in the middle, snarling at reporters and barking at staff to the astonishment of those onlookers who happened to be in the way.

His presentations were either animated, bordering on manic, or cold, steely, confrontations in which he was cocked and loaded to the teeth like a lethal weapon. My first face-to-face with him was in 1976, a year he was seeking state assistance for the Baltimore Convention Center. I was a skeptic, one who felt the numbers didn't work.

I knew the project was in trouble because I, a freshman Republican, was asked by the city's longtime lobbyist, Janet Hoffman, to meet with Hizzoner. It took a lot of imagination to see such a project on Pratt Street at that time, even more to think anyone would come there for a convention. After a discussion (he talked and I listened), I agreed to vote for it if the city indemnified the state for the debt service for five years. The bill escaped the Appropriations Committee by the slimmest of margins — one vote … mine.

As I drive down Pratt Street I often think of the man whose unique combination of vision, audacity and passion fueled such a transformation. We were to have many more collaborations (and confrontations) in the three decades our public service coincided, but that first encounter was truly unforgettable.

Robert Neall is a former state legislator and Anne Arundel County executive.

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