As the July 5 filing deadline approaches for city elections, the hunt for an opponent to run against City Council President Mary Pat Clarke appears to be over.
Clarke's across-the-board popularity and her reputation as a gifted campaigner apparently have proven too much of an obstacle for potential opponents.
She is scheduled to file her candidacy for re-election today and officially kick off her campaign Sunday at a combination birthday party and fund-raiser.
A group of city senators and some local business leaders have been scrambling since March to find a candidate willing to take on the popular Clarke.
Both groups say that her unpredictability and sometimes irrational behavior undermine her effectiveness and make dealing with her difficult.
Some politicians are upset with her role in guiding the new councilmanic redistricting plan through the council. They also don't want her involved in their district politics during the council campaign.
Clarke has said she will form her own tickets for the council in at least four of the six council districts.
"She's been able to convince those who want her out of office that she's too strong," said state Sen. John A. Pica Jr. "She may well be the most popular politician in the city."
Pica is supporting Clarke even though the redistricting plan drastically changed the 3rd Council District in his northeast Baltimore area. Clarke backed Pica during his tough battle to retain his Senate seat last year.
Among those approached to enter the race against Clarke were former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns; City Council members Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, and Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd; state Del. Elijah Cummings, D-City; and Suandra Banks, chief clerk of the Baltimore Circuit Court.
Of those, only Banks is still actively considering the offer.
Initial efforts to find a challenger to Clarke were spearheaded by state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-City.
Miedusiewski had lined up a majority of the city's senators who were interested in backing Burns in the race. Burns defeated Clarke in her first attempt for the council presidency in 1983.
But Burns told Miedusiewski he was too intent on pursuing his campaign for mayor to switch races. Burns is trying to unseat Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who knocked the former mayor out of office in 1987.
Miedusiewski then met with DiBlasi. The two-term 6th District veteran saw his home base of South Baltimore and Locust Point moved out of the district and into the 1st through redistricting and was looking to run for a higher office.
But DiBlasi couldn't get the wide base of support for state and local political leaders he wanted, so he backed out.
"She's just not fit for an office as important as council president," said Miedusiewski. "Her positions on issues are too unpredictable and her behavior erratic."
Miedusiewski said that if Clarke gets a free ride in the elections, "she'll be down here messing in my district politics, and I don't like that."
State Sen. George W. Della Jr. said Clarke appeared to be making overtures toward working with a broad range of forces in the city and "was probably the hardest-working person I've ever seen in the office." But her brandishing an unyielding will in pushing the redistricting plan through the council, Della said, "has made me think otherwise."
Clarke disputed these characterizations of her.
"People who know my history know that I'm about as predictable as they come, there's no mystery to me," Clarke said.
"I'm up front with everyone," she said. "People may not like me, but they can't say they don't know why they don't like me."
Clarke said she has forged a council that has "worked harder and been more productive than any you can name."
Della confirmed that Cummings, a close political ally of Schmoke, was asked to take on Clarke, but declined. Cunnings could not be reached for comment yesterday.
McLean, who is running for city comptroller, said she was approached by business and political leaders about switching races.
"I have a large number of people who expect and want me to run for comptroller, and I don't think it would be fair to them to change races now," McLean said. "Of course, as a politician, you never say never."
McLean declined to identify those who approached her. The overtures were made in confidence, she said. James McLean, the candidate's campaign chairman and husband, said they might sit down and listen more seriously except for the money already tied up in the campaign.
"We've bought most of our campaign literature for comptroller already," he said. "If those making the overtures want to come up with the money to help recoup the amount we've already spent, then you have a different situation."
McLean started an aborted campaign against Clarke for council president in 1987. Early polling, however, wasn't favorable to her chances, and she ran for re-election in the 2nd District instead.
Banks said she is still seriously considering offers made to her to run for Clarke's office. But like McLean, she is waiting for firm commitments on money.