Simon on Schaefer: “Always Real”
We just pinged David Simon to see if he had any stories from his time at The Sun about William Donald Schaefer. He sent along two gems.
My encounters were hit-and-run daily coverage kind of thing. Two stories I can remember that I always tell:
First time I ever met him was in Curtis Bay. He was there to give the community association a check which was = to $1 for every ton of hazardous waste that was dumped at the nearby Hawkins Point landfill. Needless to say, it was the kind of photo op that is a double-edged sword and the mayor wanted to get in and get gone before we could ask any elaborate questions. It was 1983 and I was really earnest, determined to identify myself properly as a Sun reporter, as I knew Schaefer didn’t know me from a small shitpile. He was walking toward his car in a phalanx of aides:
“Mr. Mayor, I’m David Simon from the Baltimore Sun.”
Without hestitation: “Really? I’m William Donald Schaefer from the City of Baltimore.”
All of which took up the remaining seconds before he climbed into the car and drove off. And I went back to the newsroom, a cub reporter without a quote, very much the idiot.
Years later, I am working on a long-term project on the city police department and I schedule an interview with Governor Schaefer well in advance. Tell his flaks specifically what it is about. I get to the statehouse on a cold January morning and I am escorted to the office where Schaefer is settled in a soft chair by a roaring fire, with tea/coffee/juice and danishes arrayed for me. Far cry from all our other slapdash moments together. I think to myself, well, Simon, you’ve finally arrived. Willie Don probably hasn’t read Homicide, but he knows about the TV show and he’s greeting you with some notable respect here. Savor the moment.
Then he looks up:
“You’re not Roger.”
“Roger Simon. I was told I was having breakfast with Roger Simon”
No, I wanted to say, I’m not the lickspittle columnist who you charmed into obsequiousness. I am the carnivore who is about to chew up the wreckage of a once-viable police department in a four-part series running off the front. Fear me, old man. Fear me good. Instead, I came out with, “No. Did they tell you it was Roger Simon coming to interview you about the police department? Geez, sorry if you got the wrong impression…”
“Jesus Christ” said the governor in disgust, slumping into his chair and crossing his arms. He answered my questions tightly, never offering the coffee or cakes. I swear, if he could have pulled the logs off the fire, he would have.
That said, like a lot of Marylanders, I delighted in that guy. What a crank. What a character. A pretty good mayor and not such a bad governor, in retrospect. Heart on his sleeve, angry all the time, sensitive to a fault. But real. Always real.
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