Aide to the King and the Jester
Mary Krivosh spent 30 years in City Hall, maintaining files—and keeping secrets—for William Donald Schaefer and Hyman Pressman
Published: November 27, 2013
The young Mary Ellen Fowler of Highlandtown—now 71 and known as Mary Krivosh—served in the 457th General Hospital U.S. Army Reserves with an odd duck who would go on to become one of the most successful mayors in the history of Baltimore.
“I served with [William Donald] Schaefer in the Army Reserves,” says Krivosh. “We were attached to a general hospital and medical unit.”
During World War II, Schaefer had commanded an Allied hospital in Blandford, England, which saw some of the worst casualties returning from the D-Day invasion. The unit was built for 700 beds and routinely treated 1,500 men at a time.
After his discharge in late 1945, he remained in the Reserves, not leaving until 1979 with the rank of colonel.
In 1958, Krivosh, a 16-year-old right out of St. Ann’s business school on 22nd Street, went to work for the city. By the time of the Cold War, several young women working in various offices at City Hall saw the Reserves as a good way to advance their careers. Mary Krivosh, who grew up at 129 N. Streeper St. at Fayette, was one of them.
Schaefer was a city councilman from the 5th District when Krivosh worked with him in the Reserves, which included mandatory two-weeks-a-year training exercises.
Asked if she knew that “Colonel Schaefer”—an only child, loyal but aloof, a guy who liked to say he hadn’t many friends—was destined for greatness, Krivosh paused a moment.
“In a way I did,” she says in the lobby of the old St. Brigid Catholic school on Hudson Street before an evening of coffee and cake with friends. “It was something in his mannerism. When we had to go away once a year, he was very relaxed and very protective of the girls. I never heard him holler.
“But you got the feeling he was no-nonsense. There was just something there that said you better do what he says.”
That management approach became the “Do It Now” hallmark of Schaefer’s four terms as mayor—1971 to 1986, receiving 85 percent of the vote or more in his reelections—and two terms as governor, beginning in 1987.
“He actually walked around with a file folder labeled ‘To Do,’” said Krivosh.
In his definitive biography—William Donald Schaefer: A Political Biography (1999, Johns Hopkins University Press)—author C. Fraser Smith posits that it was Schaefer’s military service that first gave him the idea of public service. Not just that he liked it, but that he was good at it.
Schaefer “began to think about a life in which the lives of others could be positively affected by his own hard work,” wrote Smith, who covered Schaefer as a Baltimore Sun reporter and who is now a political commentator for WYPR.
Krivosh remembers that Schaefer wasn’t quite as positive when someone decided that they—and not the lifelong bachelor from 620 Edgewood St.—knew what was best.
After a brief time in the city engineering office with Francis W. Kuchta (later head of the Department of Public Works), Krivosh went to work for legendary city comptroller Hyman A. Pressman (1914-to-1996).
When Schaefer was elected City Council president in 1967, he asked Krivosh to leave Pressman and work for him. She says she stayed about three months.
“I was used to doing [routine administrative] work for the Board of Estimates, and Schaefer’s office was very political, very dysfunctional,” says Krivosh, whose municipal career lasted from 1958 to 1989. “I told him I wanted to go back to the comptroller’s office.”
Krivosh was in the room when Schaefer called deputy city comptroller Richard A. Lidinsky to say, “‘Our Mary is unhappy and wants to go back.’”
She never regretted the decision. If Pressman knew how every nickel was spent while playing the role of court jester (marching comically in parades, spouting corn-pone verse), Schaefer—who never forgot and rarely forgave—held himself as a populist monarch.
“You needed to be honorable around him, like he was the king,” says Krivosh. “But if you were in a meeting and someone said something he didn’t like, he’d blow up. If he didn’t get the answer he wanted or if someone stood up to him, he blew up.”
In the comptroller’s office, Krivosh worked closely with Pressman’s longtime trusted right hand, Lidinsky, who died in 2003.
“I always say that Mary was my first secretary,” says Frank Lidinsky, a Towson attorney and Lidinsky’s son. “I started going down to City Hall to help Dad when I was 12, and she straightened out Social Security when I got my first card and they spelled my name wrong.”
Krivosh later typed up young Lidinsky’s application to Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg and the University of Baltimore law school. When he passed the Maryland Bar in 1977, Lidinsky asked “Miss Mary” to be a character reference.
She recently attended the funeral of Frank’s mother—the former Angela Miller, 90—at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church near Patterson Park.
“Pressman and my Dad ran a tight ship,” said Lidinsky. “And Mary was extremely dedicated to the office, right there with them all the way.”
Over the years, Krivosh was not only feted in one of comptroller Pressman’s silly poems, she had intimate knowledge of the bidding process to get city contracts. Back in the days when newspapers ruled the information roost, numerous local reporters would descend on her office the day bids were unsealed.
Easygoing and friendly, Krivosh was asked if she ever got friendly enough with one of the newshounds to give him a tip ahead of time.
“Oh, Lord no,” she laughs. “Not this good little Catholic girl.”
> Email Rafael Alvarez