Clarke reviews her agenda, considers pursuing mayor's job

July 22, 1991|By Ann LoLordo and Ginger Thompson

In 1987, soon after Baltimore voters sent Mary Pat Clarke to City Hall as the first female president of the City Council, she sat down and wrote herself a long memo. It was an action agenda for the four years ahead, a term of office she then thought could very well be the only shot she would have at her stated goal of changing the political landscape of Baltimore and grooming the city's future leaders.

Scratched out in longhand over seven pages and made available to only a few close aides, the memo reflected a schoolmarm's penchant for mastering the routine business of the job, a desire to emulate the street presence of former Mayor William Donald Schaefer, a commitment to aggressively deliver constituent services and an unabashed "go for it" attitude toward "busting up the status quo, black and white."

"Because re-election is unlikely, at best, we are free to disregard the consequences of taking strong and controversial stands," Mrs. Clarke wrote in her 1987 memo. "Let's gear up and organize to go for it."

Today, as the 50-year-old former English teacher tromps from political club to community association, from fund-raiser to candidates' forum, many of the goals she set out in that list of imperatives -- headlined with simple resolutions such as "Be a good people person" and "Be a good legislative leader" -- have been realized despite an early hazing that left her politically and emotionally shaken.

And if she once thought that her term would be a one-time strike at the political establishment, Mrs. Clarke is well on her way to re-election to a second term and in a strong position to run for mayor.

Opposition from Mrs. Clarke's longtime nemesis, the old-time whitepolitical clubs, was fleeting. Ten days after State Sen. George W. Della Jr. jumped into the race, he jumped out. And the challenge she feared she would face from the black political establishment never materialized -- although an effort to recruit an opponent was mounted.

The lone black contender is the Rev. Daki Napata, a community activist who helped Mrs. Clarke in her 1987 campaign.

The question is why? Baltimore is a majority black city where the president of the City Council holds the second highest elected office and, by law, fills a vacancy in the mayor's office should the mayor resign, become incapacitated or die.

The answer, say several black political leaders, lies in another question: Why would an established politician want to take the risk?

In assessing Mrs. Clarke's four years in office, "you are led to some very real conclusions that Mary Pat is not a vulnerable incumbent, that in the African-American community she has reasonably good marks, favorable marks," said Delegate Howard R. "Pete" Rawlings of West Baltimore.

The financial resources of the black community, Mr. Rawlings added, are being directed at the race for city comptroller in which two blacks and a white are vying for the city's third-highest political office.

In addition, blacks have to share power, says State Sen. Nathan Irby Jr. of East Baltimore. "I believe the city at this point can't go totally black in the upper administration. You don't want to polarize the city. There's got to be some white representation in the city. You got to have balance."

A key element was Mrs. Clarke's push this spring for a redistricting plan that blacks believe will give them a greater opportunity to win seats in the City Council, Mr. Irby said.

Passage of the redistricting plan -- a controversial document that pitted a black coalition in the council against its more veteran, and exclusive white, members -- capped a series of goals Mrs. Clarke outlined in her 1987 memo. Chief among them was to "promote black leadership, despite seniority mandates, to compensate for underrepresentation and to establish a pool of seasoned candidates for higher office," according to the memo.

L Her critics ascribe another motive to Mrs. Clarke's actions.

"She's not developing leadership. She's developing a group of followers to Mary Pat Clarke," said Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, who was stripped of his committee chairmanship this spring after the redistricting fight. "She lives to accumulate [power], and when she gets it, she abuses it."

When Mrs. Clarke stated her goals in that 1987 memo, she drafted a map to plot a political and philosophical course. "I wanted to think about a way to measure whether I had accomplished what I set out to do, so I wouldn't just drift," Mrs. Clarke said in a recent interview.

Her first resolution was "Be a good legislative leader." Efforts to "support [the] development and growth of newer, younger members" set the scenes for her most humiliating defeat and, then four years later, her most resounding victory.

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