Burns is buoyed by warm reception in Berea Mayoral candidate depending on his personal style.

August 15, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

As he sets out for another evening of campaigning, former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns scans Federal Street and immediately spots something he doesn't like. It is the Kurt Schmoke for mayor poster in a rowhouse window.

"We've got to overshadow this s---," Burns says. "Nobody over here has any business having a Kurt Schmoke for mayor sign in the window."

After all, this is Berea, an East Baltimore neighborhood where for 35 years Burns has banged on doors and asked for votes for himself or the candidates of his organization's choosing.

This precinct includes Burns' Mura Street home. And, the way Burns sees it, this will always be his turf -- even though Schmoke made that claim seem shaky in 1987. That year, Burns beat Schmoke by just 45 votes in his home precinct, where 2,109 Democrats voted in the mayoral primary.

But the 72-year-old Burns is determined to widen his margin of victory this year. And, as he walks down Federal Street, his popularity is evident.

People ask for campaign posters. Women offer hugs and kisses. Nathan Blue strolls over and asks to shake Burns' hand. "Hi, Mr. Du Burns," he says. "My mother always told me 'when you see that man, always shake his hand.' "

As Burns moves toward the Sept. 12 mayoral primary, he is depending on people like the civil servants and retired steel workers who live in the area's tidy rowhomes. He says there are people like them all over the city who like his personal style of politics and will make his campaign a success.

As a result, he says, he will defeat Schmoke, despite Schmoke's $1 million campaign war chest, despite the mayor's many endorsements, despite the power of incumbency.

"All of that stuff doesn't bother me at all," Burns says. "If everybody votes for me who says they are going to vote for me, I'll beat his brains out."

Burns also says he is unconcerned about the presence in the Democratic mayoral primary of former State's Attorney William A. Swisher. Swisher is popular in the two council districts -- the 1st and the 6th -- that Burns dominated against Schmoke in the 1987 primary.

Burns says Swisher won't split his base, despite claims from Schmoke's campaign manager, Larry Gibson, that he considers Swisher to be Schmoke's leading opponent.

"That's a lie. He is not going to split the vote," Burns says. "He won't do much. But if Swisher was able to hurt someone, it would be me."

But Burns has never put much stock in winning scenarios or scientific campaigning. He prefers to campaign the old-fashioned way, with lawn signs and bumper stickers, door-to-door and person-to-person.

"People say this campaign is lackluster, but I'm working my ass off," Burns says.

As Burns walks up Gloria Johnson-Canada's walkway he is given reason for optimism. "I'm going to get him this time," Burns tells her.

"I sure hope so," she replies. "I'm about anybody I know. And I've known you for a long time."

Johnson-Canada is a court employee and she has known Burns for decades. Burns' daughter taught kindergarten to Johnson-Canada's son and sister. As she sees it, it will pay to have a neighborhood kind of guy running City Hall.

"Du is easy to be around," Johnson-Canada explains. "He listens to people. Schmoke, he's a nice guy, but he seems to be four or five steps ahead of you. With Du Burns, he walks side-by- side with you."

Antonio Gainers, a towering former basketball player and father of two, agrees that Burns is the man to be mayor.

"The problem Schmoke has is that he and [Gov. William Donald] Schaefer are always knocking heads," he says. "That can't be good for the city. I voted Schmoke last time. But this time I'll vote for Du."

Half an hour after beginning his swing through Berea, Burns stops for a cigarette break on the porch of Howard Crosby, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years. Crosby is a Burns man. Always has been.

"People holler that Uncle Tom stuff about you," Crosby tells Burns. "But if you don't associate with white folk who do have, how are you going to get anything to give to me?" he asks.

Burns just nods in agreement. Crosby's line is one he has used for years, whenever people accuse him of being too much of a Schaefer loyalist.

Crosby says Schmoke acted too hastily in replacing the Cabinet members who had been in place under Schaefer when he was mayor, and during Burns' 11 months on the job.

Burns was appointed mayor to fill out Schaefer's unexpired term in 1987 and narrowly lost to Schmoke later that year.

"Schmoke. I just don't like his philosophy," Crosby says. "Yo just don't get rid of all your know-how right off the bat."

A little farther down the street, Burns is making his way toward a porch where three city employees are out relaxing, enjoying the pleasant evening.

"I wish I had that luxury," Burns begins. "But I have to run for office. . . ."

One of them replies, "Don't worry. I'm with you all the way."

The woman who answers refuses to give her name but says she works in a day-care program run by the city's Urban Services Agency. Schmoke wants the program turned over to private providers, in an effort to "downsize" the city's work force. The woman wants to see Burns knock Schmoke out of power.

"Schmoke wants to cut day care off. I've been in there 21 years," she says. "I'm too old to go anywhere else."

Another man, who also prefers anonymity but says he works for the Department of Education, says, "Schmoke won't hardly get any city [employee] votes. He really messed us up with that raise."

Earlier this year, Schmoke suspended a 6 percent raise he negotiated a year earlier with city employees to help close the city's $54.1 million budget gap.

"He took $3,000 from me," the man said.

"Trust me," Burns responds, "I'm going to try to make it better."

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