Schmoke's Unorthodox Politics

August 19, 1991

The failure of the New Democratic Club-2 to endorse Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's re-election is one of the more intriguing developments of this lackluster political season. The snub reveals a growing rift between Mr. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, the erratic and ambitious godmother of Second District politics. But it also illustrates just how different the mayor is from a run-of-the-mill politician.

Names should not fool anyone. Whatever once was "new" about the New Democratic Club has long since disappeared into the memory books that contain pictures of Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Robert F. Kennedy and other icons of the 1960s and 1970s Democratic Party reform.

As NDC-2 has become part of the power establishment, it has increasingly begun to behave like any other bunch of b'hoys. Thus, when its operatives began talking to the Schmoke re-election campaign about endorsement, they not only demanded a lot of cash upfront but also wanted to attach strict political conditions.

Clubs selling their endorsements for money is an old tradition in Baltimore politics. If you like a guy (or a gal), the argument goes, what's wrong with some good-faith money? Cash, after all, is needed to print "tickets" of preferred candidates. "Walk-around money" for loyalists also may be needed to assure poll coverage on election day, although such gratuities are technically illegal.

In addition to money, however, NDC-2 wanted the Schmoke campaign to agree not to support Dr. Peter Beilenson, an independent City Council candidate who is threatening Ms. Clarke's and the club's political hegemony in the district. The Schmoke organization said no.

It is no secret that the mayor is thinking of endorsing Dr. Beilenson, just as he is thinking of aiding and abetting Perry Sfikas in the First, Kevin O'Keeffe in the Third and Melvin Stukes lTC in the Sixth. All those independent candidates are challenging incumbents and the slates of established political organizations, a fact that may explain in part why so many bosses exhibit so little enthusiasm for Mr. Schmoke.

As refreshening and principled as the mayor's behavior may be, it runs counter to the whole back-scratching culture of Baltimore politics. Indeed, it may complicate Mr. Schmoke's future political ambitions. The NDC-2 snub was Mary Pat Clarke's way of telling the world that her uneasy truce with the mayor is over and that she has set her sights beyond this year's elections. While many speculate she wants to be mayor in 1995, she herself, for the time being, is talking about running for governor or lieutenant governor.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.