Du Burns' announcement last week that he would like to run against Kurt Schmoke for mayor has not exactly sent shivers of fear running up and down the spine of the Schmoke campaign.
One big reason is that the Schmoke campaign has already done polling on a possible Schmoke-Burns race. And Schmoke's campaign manager revealed the results to me Friday:
"In black East Baltimore, for example, where Schmoke and Burns split the vote 50-50 in 1987, Schmoke wins 75-25 today," Larry Gibson said. "This is the heart of Burns' support. And we beat him straight up."
And so you think you'd beat Burns in 1991? I asked Gibson.
"Oh, we would win," he said. "I don't want to be cocky. And I will work just as hard if not harder this time. But, truthfully, we would beat Du Burns. Oh, yeah. Yes. Yeah."
Schmoke, himself, talks in less confident tones about his re-election. He talks quite openly, in fact, about how difficult he thinks the race will be.
A few weeks ago, I was interviewing Schmoke in his Cabinet room, when he mentioned how his wife always passes along the comments she hears about him from her patients and at the hairdresser's.
"The hairdresser report is very important," Schmoke said with a small smile. "You learn a lot there."
And what does the public think of you? I asked.
His small smile got a little smaller. "The public thinks I'm doing . . . OK," he said. "But they also think I face a tough re-election, and I agree. There will be a number of issues this time that will be controversial. And the governor may decide to go all-out for a candidate against me."
Schmoke needed no prompting in identifying the "controversial" issues that might be used against him.
"I can see the commercial an opponent could use," he said, shaking his head. "It starts out with a picture of a bunch of needles. Then it shows people taking drugs. Then it goes on to talk about sex education in the schools."
Schmoke believes his support for things such as drug decriminalization and the dispensing of condoms in schools could be used as the basis for a campaign against him, especially one financed and supported by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Gibson is considerably more sanguine about both points. "The drug thing is not hurting Kurt," Gibson said. "Our polling shows that in Baltimore, 40 percent of the people are on his side. Now that's still a minority. But even those who oppose him give him credit for advancing the idea [of decriminalization], and it is not a factor in determining whether they support him. Two years ago, it worried me. Now, I think Kurt has weathered that storm."
And as to Schaefer actively working against Schmoke, Gibson thinks that might help and not hurt. "The public attitude toward William Donald Schaefer is considerably different today than it once was," he said, "and I am talking more in the white community than in the black. People are not as pleased with Schaefer. Look at his last election. Schaefer lost several Baltimore city precincts against an unknown. He is not that popular."
Gibson also believes that Schaefer has fallen victim to his own image-making. "Schaefer taught people that the mayor of Baltimore should be aggressive in Annapolis, should not be too cozy with the governor and should actually push the governor," Gibson said. "The people in Baltimore now like that idea. They want a mayor independent of the governor, a mayor who will be very aggressive in pushing the governor to support the city much harder than the governor wants to be pushed."
Gibson believes that Schmoke is going to be tough to beat, even in a multicandidate, multiracial field. Gibson said the key to any re-election campaign is holding on to your base support, and Schmoke has not only held on to his base of young blacks and upscale whites but has also expanded in four areas.
"One, Kurt will have the votes of city workers this time," Gibson said. "City workers tend to back the incumbent. Two, the retail activity of the mayor adds support. By that I mean all the neighborhood assistance, the cleaning up of alleys, the shaking of hands at graduations, the issuing of certificates, etc. Three, I think if you were to contact the state senators and delegates and ask them who they support, each one, with the possible exception of George Della, would support Schmoke this time. And four, there is what I call the comfort level. Some people, my mother, for instance, like incumbents and vote for incumbents because they do not like change. All that adds to Kurt's base support."
Gibson also said he believes that Schmoke has done an excellent job as mayor and could list many examples if I wanted to hear them (I declined), but that doing a good job is often not enough. "The danger," Gibson said, "is that some incumbents think the retail stuff is enough to get you re-elected. It's not. Look at [Dennis] Rasmussen; look at [Elizabeth] Bobo. Doing a decent job does not guarantee relection."
Which is where Gibson comes in. As much as he thinks Burns cannot defeat Schmoke -- he believes, in fact, that Burns is getting into the race merely to raise money to pay off his old debts -- he is also preparing a campaign effort even more high-powered than last time.
Before taking my call, for example, Gibson was in a meeting to review computer software that creates new ways to use videotape in political campaigns.
"This time," Gibson said, "I am going to be better organized."