Saying that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has amassed an "obscene" campaign war chest, William A. "Bill" Swisher challenged the mayor to donate part of the more than $1 million he has collected to charity.
Mr. Swisher, a former Baltimore state's attorney who is running for mayor, issued the challenge after announcing that he would donate $3,500 of his much smaller campaign fund to help rehabilitate an East Baltimore house owned by a charitable organization for use by a recovering drug addict and her two children.
"I think guys like Schmoke who have $1 million should donate $50,000 or $100,000 to some poor people," said Mr. Swisher, who when pressed said his campaign has collected about $50,000. "They are like the lottery -- they take a lot out of the community but they put very little back."
Mr. Schmoke dismissed Mr. Swisher's challenge as a "gimmick," saying that had Mr. Swisher been genuinely concerned, he would have become involved in housing for the poor long ago.
"If he's suggesting I haven't done anything in terms of vacant houses, he's misleading the public," said Mr. Schmoke, who pointed out that yesterday he authorized spending $5.2 million in city money for a 150-home East Baltimore expansion of the Nehemiah housing project. "We have started a lot of programs, and they are doing very well and we intend to do more," he said.
Mr. Schmoke also said he did not know whether he could legally divert money to the charitable effort.
"I am not sure of the very narrow legal question of whether you can use it for activities unrelated to the election," he said.
Maryland politicians commonly give money to non-profit groups.
Mr. Swisher said the $3,500 would pay for repairs to a house
owned by the Patterson Park Emergency Food Center at 218 N. Chester St. He said he decided to help after hearing that the center's director, Beatrice F. "Bea" Gaddy, was seeking money to renovate the house.
Ms. Gaddy, a 2nd District candidate for City Council, said although she is not endorsing Mr. Swisher or any other candidate, she welcomed his help.
"His motives might be to make himself look good on TV or in the papers, but whatever they are I'm going to thank him," Ms. Gaddy said.
Ms. Gaddy, who runs a private program for homeless and troubled people that stresses the development of self-esteem, said she would turn the house over to a woman who has been with her program for about two years.
Mr. Swisher said that if elected, he would revive the so-called "dollar house" program to reduce the estimated 6,000 vacant houses in the city. Beginning in the mid-1970s, the city sold about 600 vacant houses -- many of them near the Inner Harbor -- for $1 to people who promised to repair them. The program ended in 1982, after most of the houses that could be rebuilt profitably had been sold, leaving decaying rejects that would cost more to rebuild than they were worth.
Mr. Schmoke and housing experts said that such a program would be unrealistic now, however, because the economics have not improved, federal money used for rehabilitation has dried up and the city owns fewer than 600 vacant houses.