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Schaefer: Mayor, Governor, Comptroller, Retiree.

It's time for William Donald Schaefer to go.

He's always been fascinating, exciting, frank, gruff, refreshing--a politician you could vote for in the secure knowledge that he would cut through the bull and represent the average Marylander. Even in his 80s, in the relative backwater of the state comptroller's office, Schaefer has managed to make himself important. Governors had to massage his ego and sometimes conform to his passions and mold their proposals to his interests. Anyone who dismissed Schaefer as a washed-up old man risked a public tongue-lashing and, more important, an embarrassing loss on the policy front.

But this week's mini-storm over Schaefer's crude ogling and rude remark to a 24-year-old aide to Gov. Bobby Haircut at first angered many around the state and now has many folks realizing that the proper emotion of the moment is sadness: William Donald Schaefer, the region's second-best political character of the past quarter century--Marion Barry holds the gold--is finished.

The original ogling incident (video of the Schaefer stare is included in this WBAL-TV report) didn't show it; it seemed like just one more wacky antic from the old feller. But everything that's happened since then provides the evidence: Schaefer denied that he'd done anything wrong, and then, in a hallway press conference in Annapolis Friday afternoon, he repeated his reference to the young aide as a "little girl," delivered a bizarre tirade slamming Channel 5 reporter Patrick McGrath, said that he didn't owe anyone an apology, and shortly after that, released a strange, handwritten apology to the aide.

The almost incomprehensible apology, the bug-eyed rant against the reporter, the apparent inability to understand what he'd done--it all adds up to a man who is no longer what he once was, an 84-year-old man who should no longer be serving the public in one of the state's top jobs.

Maryland has a new generation of leaders ready to take their place in Annapolis; many of those new faces are from Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Demographically, Baltimore's domination of Maryland is a thing of the past; by any count, the D.C. suburbs should hold political control over the state. That hasn't happened yet, but it's bound to in the coming years. Schaefer's painfully obvious decline marks a good moment to get that process moving.

By Marc Fisher |  February 18, 2006; 6:02 PM ET
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