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Apr. 2011, Baltimore Sun: Schaefer

A man of the people

 

April 21, 2011

Like most Marylanders, I'm deeply saddened by the death of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

He and I were both "freshmen'" in Annapolis in 1987, when he became governor after 15 years as one of America's most acclaimed mayors and I was a first-time state delegate. What I saw from the first day through his final tenure as state comptroller 20 years later was a man totally devoted to public service who understood that he had the power and responsibility to change government for the benefit of ordinary people.

From little things like his "Reach the Beach" campaign to reduce traffic backup on the Bay Bridge, to big things like setting the University of Maryland on the path to world-class status, Mr. Schaefer had no patience with pessimists. He was "yes, we can" long before President Obama made it into a campaign slogan — and we had to "do it now!"

I remember going to see him in the early 1990's, in the middle of that decade's recession, asking his help for working-class employees of the state university. At the urging of the era's budget hawks, he and the legislature were shifting workers to 40-hour work weeks for 35 hours pay. The proposal was understandable — but making the change for working parents with only a few weeks' notice was silly and cruel.

I went to see him, one on one, to make the case for them. He listened intently. Then he simply said, "You're right. We can't do that to them. We'll delay it so people can deal with it." And that's what happened.

It wasn't the biggest issue in the state — except to the thousands of mothers and fathers who worked for the university and had arranged their lives around school hours, day care, and job shifts. Governor Schaefer understood that helping people was our job.

He got up every morning and asked what we could do to help people. And he helped people in Maryland every day of his public life.

Jim Rosapepe

The writer represents Maryland's 21st District in the state Senate.