Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says he will not attend tonight's League of Women Voters candidates forum because he does not want to alter his campaign strategy to accommodate challenger Clarence H. Du Burns.
Burns says he won't attend the forum because Schmoke won't be there. "He has what I want," Burns explained, adding: "The other candidates don't have what I want. Why should I go? It will be like talking to a wall."
A league official says she's disappointed, claiming Schmoke is reneging on a promise. "It is a big disappointment to us," said Betty Newcomb, first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Baltimore City. "It is disappointing especially when the mayor had said he would come if all the candidates are invited. We are disappointed . . . that he did not keep his word."
So, with nine days left until the Sept. 12 primary election, city voters have been denied another opportunity to hear Schmoke in the same forum with one of his chief Democratic challengers. League officials say the show will go on nonetheless. During the forum at Poly-Western High School's auditorium, each mayoral candidate will give a two-minute speech followed by a question-and-answer session. The show is not televised. The primary field includes eight Democrats and six Republicans.
Schmoke said yesterday that he would not attend the forum because it does not fit into his campaign plans. He said he had been willing to debate Burns and other mayoral challengers earlier, but he said that changed when the campaign entered its final phase. "[Burns] rejected me earlier -- and now I'm rejecting him," Schmoke said.
Schmoke said Burns is now clamoring for a debate because he wants the "free air time" it will bring him. Schmoke added, however, that he will continue to meet Burns and his other opponents on the campaign trail at forums already on his schedule. Plans for the league forum were completed late last week. The two major candidates have appeared at numerous forums throughout the campaign.
"I think that I am living up to my obligation to talk to the voters," Schmoke said, adding: "I'm out campaigning every day. I'm taking my case directly to the people. But I'm not going to spend three hours up on a stage with 13 other people. . . . I'll be out campaigning."