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Fraser Smith's Essay: January 10, 2013
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January 10, 2013
Maryland lost two remarkable characters in recent days. WYPR’s Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith comments in his weekly essay.
He called himself the Lion of Halethorpe. Senator John Coolahan, who died recently, represented a neighborhood of that name on the west side of Baltimore County. He was a big man with a big voice, a shock of golden blond hair and a keen sense of responsibility to the taxpayer.
One of his favorite Annapolis pastimes was baiting William Donald Schafer when Schaefer was mayor of Baltimore. The mayor would come down to testify on yet another urgently needed city project. Coolahan would be waiting. The rest of the state was enraptured by Baltimore’s Renaissance Mayor. Coolahan? Not so much. He called Schaefer “Willy Don the Con.” Schaefer would storm out of the committee hearing room.
It was something of a show. Schaefer usually got what he wanted. He knew passing through the Coolahan gauntlet was the price of success. As governor, he made Coolahan a judge. Some wondered if he just wanted Coolahan out of the way. But Schaefer fretted about these appointments, so it’s unlikely he would have promoted someone incompetent.
The State House process and its colorful cast were well known to Richard Ben Cramer, the former Sun reporter and writer who died Monday. He was there in the 1970s with Coolahan. In his way, Cramer was as much a character as Schaefer and the senator. He had a kind of rollicking appreciation of the political class, a real interest in the lives he chronicled. He had no fear of getting too close to those he covered. He was afraid of not getting close enough.
He knew the story of Schaefer’s rise to prominence – and how much that rise was owed to the many tough-minded women on his staff in city hall. In an Esquire Magazine article, Cramer called them the “all-girl Gestapo.”
He reveled in that kind of slightly wicked line. Editors and subjects alike might have found him a little undisciplined. Soon, though, they saw he was after the essence of the people, places and issues he wrote about.
Coolahan and Cramer. Kindred spirits.
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