updated 9/13/2006 6:26:46 PM ET 2006-09-13T22:26:46

For 51 years, Marylanders enjoyed - or at least tolerated - William Donald Schaefer's ungovernable mouth and oddball behavior and swept him into the office of his choice every time he ran. But finally, they had enough.

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On Tuesday, the 84-year-old former governor and former Baltimore mayor lost big in his bid for another term as state comptroller, done in apparently by antics that had transformed his image from lovable eccentric to mean old man - and a clueless, sexist one, at that.

The colorful unpredictability that was part of his charm had worn thin in recent years, and he seemed to have pushed many voters over the line in the past two months with his biting criticism of Janet Owens, a county executive and friend who joined the race when polls showed he was vulnerable.

He said Owens was fat. He criticized her hair style. He described her as "Mother Hubbard" in one breath and said she looked like a man in another.

Final results
Schaefer ended up finishing last in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination, getting only about 30 percent of the vote in losing to state lawmaker Peter Franchot after eight years as comptroller, a job that entails collecting taxes and serving on a board that controls millions of dollars a year in state contracts.

"He just kept doing bizarre things and saying bizarre things and offending this group, that group, this person, that person," said Donald Norris, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "It was the cumulative effect of doing things over and over that people think for a public official are not appropriate."

In defeat Wednesday, Schaefer was as unpredictable as ever. He summoned reporters to a news conference, but there were no recriminations, no complaints of betrayal by voters he had served for so long. He reacted calmly, refusing to be drawn into criticism of Franchot or Owens, and suggested he might move to Ocean City and run for mayor of Maryland's popular seaside resort.

Historical escapades
Through the years, his legions of loyal supporters discounted his foibles, considering his impolitic and sometimes hurtful remarks to be the price they paid for his unstinting devotion to his job.

Schaefer presided over the renaissance of Baltimore's decrepit inner city during 16 years as mayor in the 1980s and '90s. He governed with boundless energy, scouring the city for potholes, painting curbs pink to encourage positive thinking, luring hundreds of millions of dollars of development into the Inner Harbor and almost willing the citizens toward a new sense of optimism about their down-at-the-heels hometown.

He was swept into office as governor in 1986, but never enjoyed the job the way he loved being mayor, and the public incidents of anger began to take on a new and darker cast.

Upset because he thought a woman had made an obscene gesture toward him as she drove past him, Schaefer tracked her down through her license plate number and sent her a note that read: "Your action only exceeds the ugliness of your face." He also dropped in unannounced on a man who had sent him a critical letter.

While walking down the aisle of the state House to deliver his State of the State address, he turned to one lawmaker and said: "How's that (expletive) of an Eastern Shore," using another word for an outhouse. Even though he had won re-election handily, he was angry that the rural Eastern Shore had voted for his Republican opponent.

Political correctness
To some extent, Schaefer may have been a victim of changing times. Things he might have gotten away with a generation ago got him in trouble in these more politically correct times.

He complained at public meetings about immigrants who don't speak English, drawing criticism from Hispanic groups. He angered Marylanders of Korean descent by saying that Korea wanted to drop a bomb on the United States, failing to note the distinction between North and South Korea.

Schaefer's most outrageous transgression in the minds of many voters came at a public meeting earlier this year, when he asked a young woman who had brought him a cup of tea to walk across the room one more time while he made a show of ogling her backside.

He refused at first to apologize to "this little girl" and said she ought to be "happy that I observed her going out the door."

No apologies
At the news conference Wednesday, Schaefer remained unrepentant, responding with a firm no when asked if he regretted any of his actions.

"I don't apologize to anybody," he said.

But in a more philosophical mood, he said the one thing he wants to be remembered for is that he cared about helping people.

Looking back over his long career, he said his brightest moment came when he was mayor and was talking to "a little black lady on Gay Street" who was moving into a new public housing unit.

"This is as close to heaven as I'll ever get until I get there," Schaefer quoted her as saying. He added: "That's what I'm proudest of."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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