I would be remiss as the Inner Harbor Examiner if I did not comment on the passing of William Donald Schaefer. The Inner Harbor project, which was his brainchild, became the jewel of a revitalized city. Many publications, pundits and local celebrities for the last 24 hours have been listing his accomplishments so let’s get that out of the way: the World Trade Center, the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, the Science Center, Camden Yards, Raven’s Stadium and a host of others. However, in my opinion, these “things” are not the essence of the legacy. Unlike the building projects of Antiquity, these monuments were not intended for the emboldening of a leader, but it was for the psyche of a people.
William Donald Schaefer was either the Mayor of Baltimore or Governor of Maryland for the first 21 years of my life. I was born in Johns Hopkins in 1973 (Yup, I admitted it!) and this city was in trouble. I have heard many people shake their heads when they presently talk about the dire situation of Detroit. In the early 1970s, we were on that same path. I remember being a very little boy and downtown was an ugly place. This city went from nearly a million people to 600,000 in a few decades. The combination of riots in the late 1960s, white and corporate flight, plus a downtown skyline scattered with high-rise tenements had the same affect as draping the city with a blanket of malaise.
And then came Willie Don. I feel that sometimes as Baltimoreans we have a chip on our shoulder. As a member of the prestigious I-95 Corridor we believe that everyone out there has it in for us because we are not Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Washington D.C.. If you don’t believe me, venture out to any bar during an Orioles or Ravens game and you will hear a plethora of conspiracy theories. Mayor Schaefer became that figure in all the “arkward” teenage coming of age movies who shows the dorky kid he is somebody. The Inner Harbor and Camden Yards are the people’s trophy to show off. We now say, “I come from the place that has the awesome urban waterfront promenade” or “I come from the place that has the baseball stadium that every other baseball stadium has copied since 1992.” Yeah, we lost a football team but we fought and never quit till we got another one (and won Super Bowl XXV, WHAT!).
So William Donald Schaefer help mold my thinking as to where I came from – and maybe to a certain extent who I am. He did it the only way one of us Baltimoreans could accomplish such a feat. He was feisty and ornery with a blue collar/neighborhood charm, sentimentality and sensibility. If that’s not Baltimore, I don’t know what is. Thank you Mayor.