It will never be as hot as Madonna's latest or as sensational as Richard M. Nixon's Watergate tapes, but a three-minute audio cassette being handed out free on Baltimore street corners is getting laughs at the expense of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
In what may be remembered as the first salvo of this summer's mayoral campaign, an organization friendly to candidate Clarence H. "Du" Burns has begun handing out the first of a planned 18,000 audio tapes lampooning the Schmoke administration.
The tape, a three minute skit in the style of an old-time radio drama, depicts a fictional City Hall meeting during which frazzled aides to Mr. Schmoke desperately try to choose an issue the mayor can campaign on without hurting himself.
The skit, complete with melodramatic organ music, targets Mr. Schmoke on issues such as crime and education, implying that the mayor has done little to improve the city during the 3 1/2 years he has been in office.
The tape was produced by a political action committee known as "The Peoples Choice Inc.," headed by Frank Babusci, a longtime supporter of both Mr. Burns and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Mr. Babusci, a former city employee, publicly feuded with Mr. Schmoke after being demoted in 1989 in a disagreement over the reorganization of the Baltimore Department of Transportation.
Since March, he has been a contract employee of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Volunteers from Mr. Babusci's group yesterday handed out about 600 copies of the tape at the intersection of Hillen Road and Cold Spring Lane in Northeast Baltimore -- and will continue to hand them out on different city street corners, Mr. Babusci said.
The tape, entitled "Campaign Promises," is the first in a six-part series of tapes, entitled "City Hall Life -- The Story of a One-time Mayor and the Disappointment of an Entire City," that the group plans to distribute over the next 12 weeks.
Mr. Babusci said 3,000 tapes of each of the six "episodes" will be distributed about every two weeks.
"What generated this was, we wanted to get a message to the people, and it didn't seem like the media wanted to print anything positive on Du or negative on the present administration," Mr. Babusci said.
"If you have a news blackout, then you go to the people -- they're the ones who pull the levers."
Officials of the Schmoke campaign were not available for comment on the tapes.
Although The Peoples Choice PAC received about $50,000 from an organization set up to re-elect Governor Schaefer last fall, Mr. FTC Babusci said that money was distributed to a variety of candidates statewide in the general election last November and did not pay for the anti-Schmoke tape.
Mr. Burns, who is running to regain the mayoral seat he lost to Mr. Schmoke in 1987, said he welcomed the campaign publicity even though his organization had nothing to do with the production of the tape.
Nevertheless, it appears as if the release of the tape coincides with a push by Mr. Burns to step up his campaign.
"In about another week or so we will be flooding the radio with my name," said Mr. Burns, who said his campaign organization will begin paying for radio spots of its own as early as next week.
"So everything is going well."
However, Mr. Babusci's is not the only organization that is providing Mr. Burns with free campaign publicity.
The Baltimore City Coalition Against Unfair Taxes, an organization representing bottlers and beverage distributors, will feature Mr. Burns in a radio spot critical of the mayor's decision last week to veto a repeal of the city's tax on beverage containers.
The ads are scheduled to hit the airwaves today, Mr. Burns said.