The crab cakes and fries were hot at Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood restaurant yesterday, making the counter a fine place to linger over lunch and shoot the breeze with the construction workers and housewives, the shop owners and secretaries who pass through the Cross Street Market each day.
So Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke spent the noon hour at Nick's, nibbling on a crab cake and chatting with anyone who passed his way.
Mr. Schmoke said he plans to repeat the experience as often as three times a week for as long as he is mayor, as a way of staying close to the people of the city.
"It's a good way of hearing what is on people's minds," the mayor said. "It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but I kind of let it slip from my mind."
The mayor plans to rotate his lunch schedule among the six neighborhood markets in Baltimore and to bring along members of his staff so that they, too, don't get too far removed from the citizens they are supposed to serve. His next lunch is scheduled for Wednesday at the Northeast Market.
Mr. Schmoke said he was pleased by his first outing yesterday.
Kelvin C. Coles, who works for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., asked the mayor for advice in using city agencies to help him start an advertising company.
Later, he said the mayor offered some good ideas. "I think it's very important that the mayor not be just a pencil pusher, but that he have a voice and talk to the people," Mr. Colessaid.
The mayor's presence in the market seemed like a well-kept secret, however. The only indication that the mayor was scheduled to be there was a tiny sign on one of the tables that read "Reserved for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke."
Many people walked by, apparently without realizing that the mayor was eager to talk with the city's ordinary people.
Stephen M. Schatz, who directs a non-profit construction company from offices near the market, said he spoke with the mayor only after an aide to Mr. Schmoke spotted Mr. Schatz in the passing crowd and called him over.
"I'm surprised more people aren't talking to him," Mr. Schatz said, glancing over at the
mayor, who was sitting through a lull. "It'snice to see him down here in South Balti-more."
Last year, Mr. Schmoke hosted a series of town meetings during which he took questions from the crowds gathered at various mayor's stations. And he has three radio programs that run several times a month, during which he fields questions and listens to complaints called in live from listeners.
Mr. Schmoke said he was inspired to begin his lunch with the people program by a "60 Minutes" documentary on Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, which aired a few weeksago.
Mayor Kollek, an Israeli Jew who mingles freely with Jerusalem's Palestinian underclass, has for years worked to ease tensions between Arabs and Jews in an Israeli society torn by mistrust.
"He's someone I've admired even before I got this office," said Mr. Schmoke, who was elected in 1987. "I've often said that if there were a hall of fame for mayors, he would be the Babe Ruth."