Mayor Kurt Schmoke was campaigning along Reisterstown Road near Gwynns Falls Parkway when a voice knifed through the hubbub of rush hour traffic.
"Hey, Mayor Schmoke. I didn't know you were hanging out," said a man who seemed surprised to see Schmoke on a street corner. He rushed across the street to greet the city's chief executive.
A smiling Schmoke handed the man a campaign booklet, shared a joke and asked for a vote. The man nodded, pumped the mayor's hand and promised support.
Schmoke receives many such greetings and pledges as he campaigns for the Sept. 12 primary. When Schmoke took office in December 1987, he promised to improve the schools and to create new low- to moderate-income housing. He attracted national attention by becoming Baltimore's first elected black mayor and advocating the decriminalization of drugs.
Now, with nearly one full term under his belt, Schmoke is often received warmly as he stumps around the city. While Schmoke's detractors say he is aloof and lacks the common touch, the mayor seems comfortable on the campaign trail.
Schmoke, who attended Yale, Harvard and Oxford universities, is a self-proclaimed "nerd." He prides himself on being thoughtful and pragmatic, and says his critics are judging him on style rather than substance.
Thus far, Schmoke's re-election campaign has been smooth and uneventful. He appears out of range of the occasional barbs of his leading opponents, former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns and William A. Swisher, a former state's attorney.
"I felt we would look better once we had other candidates in the race," Schmoke said. "It is not easy to do well against an abstraction. I think we look better when compared to other candidates."
Despite the fact that Schmoke has hardly been engaged by his rivals, he is running a busy, if quiet, re-election campaign.
"I'm doing things the same way I did before. I go where I've been invited. And I'm out campaigning in evenings," Schmoke said. "We didn't go out and deliberately organize a low-key campaign."
Indeed, he is busy.
This day, he had a 12-hour public schedule that began with an unveiling of a Department of Transportation traffic computer model. He then headed to Park Heights to meet with a group of ministers.
After that, he was off to the Afram luncheon at the Convention Center, where he received a warm standing ovation from the crowd of 350, which was liberally sprinkled with his Cabinet members and political appointees.
It is the kind of reception the mayor received all day.
Minutes after ducking out of the luncheon, Schmoke was facing a lunch-hour crowd at the Harborplace amphitheater. The occasion was the announcement that the 1992 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials will be held at the Baltimore Arena.
Then Schmoke --ed back to the Convention Center and reclaimed his seat on the dais to hear retired U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell's speech about the transformation that has occurred in Baltimore.
Even before Mitchell was done, Schmoke was off to Highlandtown to inspect a potential site for a Hispanic community center.
The site is above the Enoch Pratt Free Library branch on Eastern and Highland avenues. In 1987, Schmoke wasn't very popular in this part of the city -- he lost this council district to Burns by a 2-1 margin.
But today, the mayor appears to be well-liked here. Horns honked and people waved on Eastern Avenue. As he walked into the library, old men rose from their newspapers and books to greet him. School-age children came to shake his hand. The librarians all smiled.
Schmoke then teamed up with Haydee Rodriguez, his liaison to the Hispanic community, and they led a trail of people up the steps to the long-abandoned second and third floors of the library building.
There was silence as the mayor inspected the decrepit rooms. Then Schmoke broke the silence by declaring, "It's nice. Look at how much space you have here. I think we ought to at least show it to representatives of the community."
Schmoke's supporters concede that the mayor should make a greater effort to rub elbows with constituents, getting more deeply involved in the nitty-gritty of city life.
The mayor seemed to agree.
"I reject the criticism that I am aloof and don't get out," he said. "But having said that, I do plan to stop in on more things that I am invited to, even if it is not on my schedule. I also plan to stop in more on the work of city employees."