Prospects for debate by Schmoke, Burns brighten, then fade

August 23, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Like the skies of an August thunderstorm, the prospect that Baltimore voters might witness a debate between candidates for mayor brightened suddenly, then grew ominously dark, all in the space of a summer day.

Yesterday morning, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he was still willing to debate former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns if all eight Democratic candidates were invited to participate. A short while later, Mr. Burns, who said he would rather face the mayor one on one, indicated he would nonetheless be willing to debate under any conditions.

"But I'd rather get him by myself so I can tear his pants off like I did the last time," said Mr. Burns, whose campaign four years ago was revived by his televised debate with Mr. Schmoke. Mr. Schmoke went on to oust Mr. Burns by a narrow margin.

With the two most visible candidates in the race apparently willing, it would seem that a debate would be just a matter of


But Schmoke campaign manager Larry S. Gibson said that time is exactly the issue, and that with only three weeks left before Election Day, there is simply not enough of it to have a debate.

"It's just simply too late," Mr. Gibson said, adding that Mr. Schmoke would not be debating anyone at any time. "We've planned our schedule. We are not, here at the last minute, going to change our game plan."

Asked if the decision not to debate was made by the mayor or the campaign staff, Mr. Gibson said, "There is no difference between the campaign and the mayor on this issue."

A spokesman for Mayor Schmoke, who was unaware of Mr. Gibson's remarks, said late yesterday that the mayor still stands by his pledge to debate.

"The mayor said today, in response to Mr. Du Burns' throwing down the gauntlet, that he said several weeks ago . . . he is willing to debate if all of the Democratic candidates are invited to participate," spokesman Clinton R. Coleman Jr. said. "But time is growing short."

Yesterday, Mr. Burns took an empty chair to Pennsylvania Station to call attention to his demand for a debate with Mr. Schmoke, whose campaign symbol is a railroad train and whose campaign slogan is "Stay on board with Schmoke."

Mr. Burns said the lack of a debate is allowing Mr. Schmoke to avoid tough questions on crime, schools and trash and his management of the city.

"This is going to be his ruination, telling people to stay on board a train that is already derailed," Mr. Burns said.

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