Mayoral race revs up to a purr Main candidates campaign quietly.

July 24, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

The murmur you hear on the streets of Baltimore this summer is the sound of the city's mayoral campaign.

With seven weeks to go until the Sept. 12 primary, the campaign has been a low-decibel affair, with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke campaigning around the city, but assiduously avoiding confronting his opponents. They have given him no reason to do otherwise.

The mayor says he won't agree to a debate unless all eight Democratic aspirants are involved.

And at the numerous candidate forums held around the city, Schmoke often won't even enter the room until he is sure that his leading opponents are a safe distance from a microphone.

Meanwhile, former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns and William A. Swisher, a former Baltimore state's attorney -- expected to become Schmoke's leading opponents -- have not been able to bring the fight to Schmoke, the acknowledged front-runner.

And, curiously, both Burns and Swisher have done little to publicize their campaigns. Instead, they have chosen to quietly

make appeals for support before community groups, clergy and political clubs.

Their campaign schedules have not been made available to news reporters. Even Schmoke has made only parts of his campaign schedule readily available to them.

Also, the mayor's opponents, who say they are strapped for money, have done little advertising in newspapers or on television and radio.

"Things have been very low key," says Allen Quille, Burns' campaign chairman. "But some of that is because Schmoke isn't saying anything. We're not going to respond to things that Gibson says." Larry S. Gibson is Schmoke's campaign chairman.

The lethargy of the campaign is apparent to heads of political organizations in Baltimore, who normally are wooed by candidates who want the volunteers and a spot on a ticket that the clubs can provide.

"We really don't know what Du's campaign is doing, and we haven't heard from Swisher," says Awilda Marquez, president of New Democratic Club -- 2nd District. "I personally have not seen any evidence of door-to-door campaigning or phone calling or any of the activity you normally associate with a campaign."

Despite such evidence, both Burns and Swisher say they are busily campaigning.

Yesterday, for instance, Burns was out at 6 a.m. with eight volunteers and a giant Burns for Mayor banner and waving at motorists at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Mulberry Street.

After that, he spent four hours at the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, where, he says, he met 75 to 80 potential voters. From there, Burns went to a late afternoon meeting with his top campaign brass.

"I'm doing exactly what I planned to do," Burns says. "I was so disillusioned by the last election and how I was treated by the media that I felt that there is no sense in even bothering with them because they won't treat me fairly."

Despite that, Burns says, he plans to turn up the volume soon.

The campaign has bought space on 15 billboards around the city. Also, he says, a series of radio ads is set to begin next week.

A posse of about 20 volunteers are out distributing "Du Knows Baltimore" literature each night. Burns says he is working on a piece of campaign literature that will call Schmoke to task for "mistakes" made during his first term.

"We'll have a press conference on that," says a relaxed Burns, taking a drag on a cigarette at his Cathedral Street headquarters.

Swisher, meanwhile, has confined his advertising to cable television and radio spots during the Lithuanian Melody Time on WDMD and the Saturday Polka Music Jamboree on WJRO, a campaign official says.

"The campaign seems flat, doesn't it?" Swisher says. "But, so far, our schedule has been a loose sort of thing. Things really depend on what pops up."

Like Burns, Swisher says he has plans to press his case more strongly. He says he's kicking off a series of weekly news conferences attacking Schmoke today.

The lack of activity by his opponents has left Schmoke -- who many observers say seemed more vulnerable at the start of the campaign -- free to campaign at his own pace.

Schmoke literature and signs are increasingly visible around the city. He has mailed a booklet touting his accomplishments as mayor to many voters. He also has launched a radio campaign, made numerous appearances around the city, and is sitting on a load of money (he has raised well over $1 million) for a television ad campaign to cap his re-election effort.

"We don't mind a quiet campaign," says one top official in Schmoke's campaign. "It doesn't hurt us at all."

Burns says he plans to see that Schmoke does not coast to victory, however. "I'm very happy. I'm the happiest guy in this campaign. Things are going well," he says. "I'm out there on the street. I hear what people are saying. I listen to that."

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