Clarence H. Du Burns has challenged Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to a political debate, promising to "tear the pants" off the mayor if the two meet.
"I want him and I to talk it out for the public," Burns said yesterday during a news conference outside Pennsylvania Station, a site he chose so he could ridicule the mayor's Schmoke train campaign theme.
But Schmoke campaign officials say it is too late for a debate.
"Our train has left the station. And we're way down the track," said Larry S. Gibson, Schmoke's campaign manager. "This is too little, too late."
Burns said he wants to debate Schmoke so the public can hear their ideas on the issues, which he said are led by crime and education.
"I am not afraid to debate him," Burns said. "The last time him and I were on the air, I beat him up."
Burns and Schmoke debated late in the 1987 mayoral primary campaign, a session that is credited with sparking a Burns surge. Before the debate, Burns, who was then mayor, was far behind Schmoke in the polls. But he lost the election by only 5,400 votes.
Burns said yesterday that he would agree to Schmoke's early position that a debate should include at least all of the eight Democratic candidates vying in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.
"I would like to get him by myself, so I can tear his pants off like I did before," Burns said, adding that he'll agree to debate with all the challengers.
The League of Women Voters is considering inviting all the mayoral candidates -- eight Democrats and six Republicans -- to debate.
"We have been trying to figure out a format that would work. We may well do that this weekend. But our plans our still indefinite," said Anne G. Gresser, president of the League of Women Voters.
For more than a month, Schmoke has said that he would participate in a debate so long as all of the Democratic challengers were allowed to participate.
But that has changed now that the campaign is down to its final three weeks, Gibson said.
"We plan our campaign weeks in advance and we know pretty much what we're going to be doing the remainder of the campaign," Gibson said.
"The problem now is just a sheer matter of scheduling. We're not going about this campaign in a haphazard fashion. We've made commitments."
Schmoke, meanwhile, dismissed Burns' challenge as a publicity stunt. "The man is getting to the point of desperation and he needs another gimmick," Schmoke said. "This is it."
But Burns said it is no stunt. He said city voters deserve to hear a full discussion of the issues confronting the city before casting their ballots.
"I want to speak out on all the issues and I call on him to occupy that chair," Burns said, pointing to a chair he had brought to his news conference as a prop. On it was a plastic locomotive. "This guy is telling people to stay on board, but his train is already derailed."