The way the story is going around, the former mayor of Baltimore, Clarence "Du" Burns, just sandbagged the current mayor of Baltimore, Kurt L. Schmoke.
Allegedly, the confrontation last week went something like this:
Schmoke: "Mr. Former Mayor, we who are young and inexperienced humbly seek your wisdom and guidance in dealing with the sharks of the state legislature. Please come back to work for your city."
Burns: "Beat it, kid, you bother me."
Schmoke: "You don't want to work for the mayor of Baltimore?"
Burns: "Son, I want to be the mayor of Baltimore."
It is now three years since Kurt Schmoke replaced Du Burns as mayor, three years in which the former mayor has felt ignored andostracized and the current mayor has felt a political chill emanating from the former mayor.
Now, with a year left in his current administration, Schmoke invited Burns to City Hall last week to talk about the city's struggle for life during perilous economic times. Burns said he intended to run for mayor. Schmoke allegedly asked him to do a little lobbying in Annapolis.
Some people said it looked like a belated bit of arm-twisting to keep Burns from running again.
Make no mistake, there is not much love between these two men. Burns is a William Donald Schaefer man. If that's not enough, Burns was bruised by his close loss to Schmoke three years ago, and many at City Hall say he's been ignored by the mayor ever since, and Burns has long talked of running again.
For their part, though, people around Schmoke tell a different story of the past three years. They say Burns gave them no help during their transition into office nor any help thereafter. They say they've given him precisely what he's given them.
That's what makes last week's meeting so theoretically dramatic: the young man, struggling with tough times, with an economy gone mad, with political foes all around, finally turning to the old man for guidance; and the old man, licking his wounds, holding on to his pride, telling the young fellow to bug off.
Except for this:
"It's not what happened."
That's the voice of Kurt L. Schmoke.
He says there was no veiled buyout of Burns' political prospects with an offer of a job. Also, he says, any political plans Burns might have for next year make no difference to him.
"A mutual friend," says Schmoke, "told me a few weeks ago that Du wanted to talk to me. So we set up a meeting. My only purpose was to talk about the Linowes report," urging state financial help for the city of Baltimore.
Certainly, Schmoke wasn't surprised when Burns told him he wanted to run for mayor. Burns has been saying that in public for at least a year, contingent only on raising enough money. Still about $45,000 in debt from the last campaign, Burns says he'd want to raise about $300,000 for another run. Schmoke already has about $500,000 in the bank.
"I'm not too concerned about his candidacy," Schmoke said late last week. "I said to Du, 'I hear you're gonna run again if you raise the money.' He said, 'Yeah, that's right.' But that was about the extent of our talk about that.
"I was interested in talking about Linowes. It's going to take a lot of time and effort, and we need to get a lot of people involved. And that's what we talked about."
This mayor enters next month's legislative season a little undermanned, with longtime city lobbyist Janet Hoffman on the shelf and Governor Schaefer still giving off no warmth and the economy folding in on itself.
The city could use some political help. Du Burns is a politician above all else. Did the mayor offer him a specific job? Schmoke says no. Did he ask Burns for help? Schmoke says yes.
"Du and I were never close, not even when I was state's attorney," Schmoke says, "but we have dealt professionally. I know he feels we've ignored him. But I offered him a job right after I was elected. We had a series of meetings, 10 hours over three days, and during that time I offered him a job.
"He said he wasn't interested. He said he wanted to travel, to enjoy his retirement. After I got in, he says he tried reaching me four different times, but I never knew about it. I asked him who he'd talked to. He said, 'One of the girls.' That was the whole discussion."
On such misunderstandings are pieces of political history written. Each man feels a chill from the other. When Schmoke wants advice from a former mayor, he bypasses the last two and turns to Tommy D'Alesandro. When Burns, 72 years old, thinks of a future, he imagines knocking Kurt Schmoke out of office.
Last week, the two men talked for an hour about various state legislators and how to approach them about help for the city. What a lovely idea: the old man yielding a few tricks of the trade to the young man, with the city's assistance the only thing that matters and personal ambition put aside for the moment.
What a pity such a thing hasn't been happening for the last three years.