Last week, former Baltimore City Mayor and ex-Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer passed away at the age of 89. When a region's political titan dies, obituaries are typically filled with detailed analysis of his or her policies' affect on the key issues facing local municipalities -- the economy, crime rates, poverty levels, education. In the case of William Donald Schaefer, the common theme was sports.
Baltimore is a city whose civic pride revolves around its sports franchises. During his 16 years as mayor of Baltimore, Schaefer presided over the loss of two professional sports teams. First, the Baltimore Bullets left for D.C. and became the Washington Bullets. Then on March 29, 1984, the city's crown jewel, the Baltimore Colts, skipped town for Indianapolis. Perhaps the most indelible image of Schaefer's four terms as Baltimore mayor -- and one that as a 12 year-old kid I knew I would never forget -- was him taking to the microphone on that cold, snowy day to tell his constituents that their fair city had lost its beloved Colts.
Schaefer knew that a city's blood was pumped through the heart of the local sports franchises. He knew that Baltimore could not afford to lose its last remaining team, the Orioles, who were owned by a Washington, D.C. lawyer who had threatened to take the team down I-95.
It was with that backdrop that Governor Schaefer began a campaign to keep major league sports in Charm City. And with that, a public-private partnership was formed, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards was conceived and built.
The execution on that stadium deal not only preserved the Orioles for Baltimore, but also showed cities around the country that downtown regentrification was possible through sports. The new ballparks in Cleveland, San Francisco, San Diego, Arlington, Atlanta, Seattle, Philadelphia and St. Louis owe an homage to Camden Yards. And those city's fans owe their gratitude to William Donald Schaefer.
As Governor, Schaefer was instrumental in bringing professional football back to Baltimore. He pushed for the building of a new football-only facility next to Camden Yards that paved the way for the Browns to move to Baltimore. As former Ravens owner Art Modell said of Schaefer, "He's the reason the Ravens are here, he laid the foundation first as Baltimore's mayor and as governor of Maryland when he championed the funding of a new stadium. In fact, champion is the right word. Gov. Schaefer was a champion for Baltimore, for Maryland and for the common man."
I write this not just to honor a man who cared passionately for his citizens, but also to highlight the larger issue looming at the local level. As cities and states deal with massive debt, the appetite for public financing of stadiums has dried up. And rightfully so. But the local franchise is not a parasite on the local community. It is a treasure. There are countless teams with bad stadiums, broke cities, and a looming threat of either contraction or relocation. A new model between municipalities and teams must be formed.
What would the city of Baltimore be today without the Orioles and Ravens? Thanks to William Donald Schaefer, we'll never have to know.
-- Follow David Katz on Twitter at @katzmando.