How about a punch in the nose?

Posted: Feb 19, 2006 12:05 AM

William Donald Schaefer has been a politician for the last 51 years — a member of the Baltimore city council, mayor for 16 years, governor of Maryland for eight years and now State Comptroller . . . and he's running for re-election.

To those of us who hold the Power Corrupts thesis, we expect a politician, the longer lingering in office, to become more arrogant and removed from normal standards of decency. Meet Politician Schaefer. Exhibit A.

At the February 15th meeting of the Maryland Public Works Board, Schaefer had a little run-in with a 24-year-old woman, employed by the governor's office. As part of her job she delivered a mug of tea to the powerful state comptroller. He needed that nourishment and pampering to conduct the people's business.

Schaefer ogled the woman as she walked away. Then, from across the room, he motioned for her to return to him. When the young woman re-approached him, Schaefer said, "Walk again." According to observers, the woman then left the room, somewhat flustered, with Schaefer ogling up another storm.

This incident was really a very funny joke according to Schaefer and his cronies. They wonder (out loud) why some of us just don't get it.

When reporters asked Schaefer to account for his behavior, he exploded by cursing, "That's so [expletive deleted] dumb I can't believe it." He claimed that the woman should have been "happy that I observed her going out the door. . . . A little girl walks out, and I make a joke out of it. . . . The one who is offended is me."

Schaefer and his team of public servants had a multitude of defenses. There was the "The day I don't look at pretty girls, I die" defense. And to Louise Hayman, a longtime aide to Schaefer, the problem was clearly this 24-year old woman with the nerve to be offended. "I think she overreacted, frankly," stated Hayman.

Haymen went on to opine, "I guess she was surprised by it." (Shaefer's employees have grown used to it?) And Haymen offered, "There's a generational issue here."

Schaefer is 84 years old — a decade older than my father, but let's call them the same generation. A generation that deserves an apology. No decent person treats another person this way. Not today, and not 20 years ago or a century ago, either. Not ever.

Rest assured, Hayman was quick to emphasize that this particular lech has a well-established record of promoting women in the work place. She also explained that those who have worked for him do not feel in any way offended by his habit of referring to accomplished women as "little girls." (Adjust your score accordingly.)

"It sounds like he's demeaning you, but what he's really saying is he respects you," enlightened Hayman. Adding, "I know that sounds odd."

There were those who found the whole issue far worse than "odd." State Senator Sharon Grosfeld (D-Montgomery) urged Schaefer to apologize publicly and to "recognize the sexism inherent in his behavior." But sexism seems too pat an explanation. It suggests that Schaefer has the wrong attitude about women; the problem more likely is that he has the wrong attitude about all people . . . and his own political power.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, a Democratic candidate for governor, called Schaefer's actions "inappropriate," but said he would keep a prominent picture on his website of he and Schaefer together.

"It was obviously a mistake, but the only people who would be shocked by the incident would be people who don't know William Donald Schaefer," said Senate President Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). "You have to consider the totality of the candidate. It's hard to overlook his record of achievement in the past."

The Washington Post published an editorial critical of Schaefer. Well, ever-so-gently critical at least. The paper compared the harasser to one's grandfather, writing:

Maybe William Donald Schaefer reminds you a little of a long-retired grandfather. Gramps is quite a character, too, right? Cranky, crusty and politically incorrect, he makes his relatives shake their heads and roll their eyes indulgently. A real specimen from mid-century, God bless him. . . . Wouldn't it be nice if, along with his grumpy witticisms, he presented himself to voters as a man fully acclimated to the 21st century?

Even Schaefer's opponent for state comptroller in Maryland's Democratic Primary seemed quick to forgive him. "I'm sure the comptroller, when he thinks about this, will feel badly about it," Delegate Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery) offered.

Let's get all this straight: A powerful official publicly harasses a young woman. When reporters question the official, he curses at them. He says the woman should have enjoyed it. It was just a joke. His spokesperson says that the woman overreacted. The politician has a good record of promoting "little girls." He really respects women. And if he doesn't, well, it's his generation's fault. He's just like your grandfather. Plus, when this official gives any thought to his actions, he'll probably be sorry.

I say, make him sorry. And I'm not suggesting the State of Maryland spend dime one on a sensitivity class for the old goat. Sure, Schaefer should apologize. But he should do so during the same news conference that he announces his withdrawal from his re-election campaign as well as his resignation from the office of state comptroller.

If that sounds like harsh medicine, he should remember it could get worse. Somewhere, the father — or brother, or boyfriend — of this 24-year old woman wants to punch Schaefer right in the nose.


After the above column was placed safely into the hands of, the author came across the late-breaking story that Shaefer had, indeed, apologized. Sorta. Almost. Well, he had written the offended woman a 24-word letter that somehow managed to say the word "sorry" without admitting any wrongdoing. Another masterful political stroke. Changing a word of the above column for such a dismissive missive seems unnecessary."