Former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns, invited by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to help City Hall rally support for the city in Annapolis, said he instead told Mr. Schmoke that he intends to run against him in next year's election.
Mr. Burns, who described a private, hourlong meeting in the mayor's City Hall office on Tuesday as cordial, said he thought he could do more for Baltimore by running for mayor because Mr. Schmoke is in danger of squandering the momentum that had marked Baltimore as a city on the rise.
"I think I could do a better job than he is doing in running the city," Mr. Burns said. "I don't know who is directing the band, but it is not playing in harmony."
Mr. Schmoke said that he met with Mr. Burns to urge him to work with his administration to rally support in Annapolis for a state takeover of certain state-mandated functions, such as the Circuit Court and the state's attorney's office. But he declined to give further details of their conversation, and aides to the mayor said that Mr. Burns was never formally offered a job.
"We are looking for all the help we can get," Mr. Schmoke said Wednesday night when asked about the meeting.
Mr. Burns, a 72-year-old veteran of East Baltimore politics, said only a failure to raise money would keep him from challenging Mr. Schmoke, who has been raising money almost non-stop since he first won election in 1987.
Mr. Burns said he still owes about $45,000 from his last campaign against Mr. Schmoke in 1987. He said he would need to raise $300,000 to $400,000 in order to mount a credible challenge in 1991.
Mr. Schmoke has already raised much more. As of Nov. 27, he had collected $805,375 since his last campaign and still has a cash balance of more than $500,000 despite having doled out $108,000 to help elect state legislators friendly to the city, according to Larry S. Gibson, his campaign chairman.
Mr. Burns, a former City Council president, became mayor in 1987 when William Donald Schaefer left for the governor's mansion. He narrowly lost to Mr. Schmoke in the 1987 election despite widespread predictions of an overwhelming Schmoke victory.
Since then, speculation over whether Mr. Burns would run again and how well he would do in challenging Mr. Schmoke has been kept alive by those who believe that, in his three years in office, Mr. Schmoke has proved to be an uninspiring bureaucrat who has shown little talent for running city government.
Mr. Schmoke's supporters denied that his attempt to enlist Mr. Burns' help in Annapolis is intended to dissuade Mr. Burns from running.
"I'm sure whatever decision Mayor Burns makes on whether to run won't be based on this," Mr. Gibson said. "You work on matters where you have common agreement. That happens in politics all the time."
But Mr. Schmoke's sudden solicitousness contrasts sharply with the years of apparent indifference he has shown to the former mayor.
Early in Mr. Schmoke's term, for example, he refused to return Mr. Burns' phone calls when Mr. Burns offered to share with Mr. Schmoke his knowledge of several city projects initiated under his administration, Mr. Burns and others have said.
"In the months after Kurt took over, Du was kind of hurt by the kind of treatment he was receiving," said a former city official from the Burns years. "The basic courtesies weren't extended to him. They didn't even listen to him to ignore him."
Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway and Northwestern High School principal Boyse Mosley also have expressed interest in running for mayor, but so far they have made no further moves.