Swisher plans to challenge Schmoke in fall

March 08, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

In a year that has already seen Jim Palmer try to prove he can still pitch and Sugar Ray Leonard prove he can still fight, William A. Swisher wants to prove he can still run.

Mr. Swisher, the former Baltimore state's attorney who lost his job in 1982 to a then-obscure lawyer named Kurt L. Schmoke, said yesterday that he was planning for a rematch and would challenge Mr. Schmoke in the Democratic primary for mayor.

"The city is really in bad shape," said Mr. Swisher. "Crime has gotten out of hand. The Police Department has to be reorganized, the Fire Department, the school department, everything. A lot of people are upset with Baltimore and have asked me, 'Bill, why don't you do something about it?' "

Mr. Swisher, who said he would file as a mayoral candidate this morning, is perhaps best known for his controversial anti-crime ad campaigns. He was a virtual unknown when he burst on the the political scene in 1974 and upset incumbent State's Attorney Milton B. Allen.

A television commercial in that campaign featured him standing in front of a police car saying, "The city is a jungle." It led to accusations that his campaign was a racially tinged appeal to the fears of white voters.

The Highlandtown native, who lives in Guilford and whose law office is in Towson, said he planned to focus his appeal on working and middle-class Baltimoreans, rather than "fat cat" Schmoke supporters.

"Schmoke has loads and loads of money, but it all comes from the fat cats," said Mr. Swisher, who says he has little money and no plans for lavish fund-raisers. "No one gives $800,000 to someone and doesn't expect something back."

The mayor's supporters say that much of the $1 million in campaign contributions Mr. Schmoke has gathered since his 1987 election has come through fund-raisers targetedat small contributions.

Mr. Swisher is the second politician involuntarily retired by Mr. Schmoke who has announced his intention to challenge the mayor in the September primary. In February, former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns said he would definitely run to retake the seat he lost in 1987. Neither Mr. Schmoke nor Mr. Burns could be reached for comment.

Mr. Burns' entry into the race could raise the possibility of a split in the black vote between him and Mr. Schmoke. This could help the chances of a third candidate with strong appeal among white voters.

Mr. Swisher has lost previously to both Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Burns. He lost to Mr. Schmoke in 1982 when Mr. Schmoke ousted him as state's attorney. He ran for president of the City Council the next year but was beaten by Mr. Burns.

Mr. Swisher's most recent campaigns have been less than vigorous. In 1983, Mr. Swisher was criticized for failing to woo the old-guard political clubs that had been his natural power base. Then in his last campaign for City Council in 1987, he dropped out of the race a few weeks after he filed. Some political observers say the old-guard organizations that helped get Mr. Swisher elected in the 1970s no longer can deliver.

"Back in the days of Hofferbert and Pollack he got a good vote," said City Councilman John A. Schaefer of the 1st District, referring to two old-line Baltimore bosses, George Hofferbert and James H. "Jack" Pollack. "But things have changed."

Mr. Swisher's challenge of the mayor raises a curious irony.

In 1974, Mr. Allen asked political guru Larry S. Gibson for help in organizing his campaign against Mr. Swisher. Mr. Gibson dismissed the request, assuring Mr. Allen that his victory was a lock.

Today, Mr. Gibson is organizing Mr. Schmoke's re-election bid. "Since then," Mr. Gibson said, "I've learned to take nothing for granted."

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