April 27, 2011

There are elected officials who have no problem with pandering to selected minorities or shamelessly whipping out the race card to win an election. Think Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. There are also elected officials who cave in to political correctness.

When William Donald Schaefer, former Baltimore mayor and former governor and comptroller of Maryland, died earlier this week, we lost a public servant who was the polar opposite of all three types listed above.

As mayor of Baltimore, Schaefer was the "do it now" chief executive who revitalized the area known as the Inner Harbor. As governor of Maryland, he helped bring Oriole Park at Camden Yards to Baltimore. And as Maryland's comptroller, Schaefer brought us two exquisite moments when he tossed political correctness out the window.

The first time was in 2004. Schaefer stopped at an Anne Arundel County McDonald's and had problem getting his breakfast order filled. The woman taking the order had limited, if indeed any, comprehension of the English language.

Schaefer said what many elected officials want to say but don't, and what many should say but won't: Recent immigrants to America need to learn to speak English.

The reaction from Maryland's "America Last" crowd was swift. How dare Schaefer suggest such a thing?

Why, because it's true, of course. At the time I was a columnist for another paper. I wrote a piece agreeing with Schaefer and gave my experience as a customer at a Panama KFC.

I was only in Panama a week, but in that short time I made it a point to learn enough Spanish to walk into that KFC and place my order -- a two-piece chicken dinner -- in Spanish. I did that for a very specific reason.

It's called "respect." Today many in America, native-born and recent immigrants both legal and illegal, don't think our country warrants it. I'm afraid I'll have to insist on it. If I respect another country's customs, immigration laws and language, then those coming here had darned well better learn to respect ours.

One year later, Schaefer was in a state Board of Public Works meeting with then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. discussing a Maryland "affirmative action" program called Minority Business Enterprise, more commonly known by the acronym MBE. The program's goal was to award state contracts to minority-owned businesses.

Again drop-kicking political correctness straight to the curb, where it belongs, Schaefer brought up the question on many Marylanders' minds about MBE.

"When does MBE e-n-d?" Schaefer asked Ehrlich. "The law says it's not supposed to be a permanent program."

Schaefer was basically asking when would whites and white men who had no part in the blatant, rampant discrimination blacks, other minorities and women faced in the past have to stop paying for it in the present.

"Do you want the legal answer, or the political one?" Ehrlich answered. He concluded with this observation: "Race politics is ugly."

It certainly is here in Maryland, but Schaefer was one Democrat who refused to play the ugly game. After years as serving Baltimore as its city council president, Schaefer decided to run for mayor in 1971.

In the Democratic primary, his two leading challengers were prominent black public officials. Clarence Mitchell III was a state senator and hailed from a prominent Baltimore civil rights family. George Russell was the city solicitor.

Schaefer defeated both in the primary and went on to become a four-term mayor. He pulled the race card not once during the 1971 primary. O'Malley could have used a few lessons from one William Donald Schaefer.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan. SOURCE: Washington Examiner

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