Schmoke holds re-election edge, but Swisher, Burns keep up heat CITY PRIMARY ELECTION/MAYOR

September 08, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has distributed thousands of copies of a glossy, pocket-sized book in which he claims credit for improving the quality of life for city residents.

The campaign literature says Mr. Schmoke has created new low-to-moderate income housing, improved the schools and kept the city on sound financial ground. Mr. Schmoke, who is seeking a second term, says he is content to let voters to judge him on his record when they go to the polls on Thursday. But the two leading Democratic challengers are trying to take the gloss off Mr. Schmoke's campaign claims.

Former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns says the school system is "going down the tubes, and going down fast" and William A. Swisher, a former city state's attorney, points to the city's high crime rate and blames Mr. Schmoke for not making the streets safe.

At a recent Northwest Baltimore political forum, Mr. Burns took aim at Mr. Schmoke's campaign brochure and described it as "a pack of lies."

"The worst thing for a politician to do is lie to the people," Mr. Burns said, adding: "I either could do something or I could not do it. But I won't lie. He [Mr. Schmoke] wants you to believe he's the great 'I Am.' He's been a total failure as mayor. You can't find anywhere in his administration where there is some good common sense."

Mr. Burns, 72, whom Mr. Schmoke defeated in the 1987 Democratic primary, says the leadership problems in the school system and the long-standing problems at the city jail, now the Baltimore City Detention Center, are clear indications of Mr. Schmoke's failure to manage the city.

Besides branding Mr. Schmoke a liar, Mr. Burns has said the electorate is not holding the mayor accountable for the city's woes because of Mr. Schmoke's Ivy League credentials.

At times, Mr. Burns' salvos have not been backed up with specifics, a factor that may have hurt his effort to win votes at candidates' forums around the city.

"Although I'm a teacher and my salary has been been frozen [by Mr. Schmoke], it could be worse, given the circumstances," says Renee Ingram, a mother of three and a city schoolteacher, who attended a recent forum and listened to Mr. Burns attack the mayor.

"I found 'Du' Burns to be very accusatory, which made me shut down. Plus, he did not lay out his plans or talk about what he would do," Ms. Ingram said.

A lifelong resident of East Baltimore who began his political career more than 40 years ago as a ward heeler, Mr. Burns is supported by people who like his old-fashioned, people-oriented political style.

The Burns campaign is strapped for money and apparently short on organization, endorsements and big-name political support. Mr. Burns has tried to win votes by campaigning door-to-door and speaking at many candidates forums. Wherever Mr. Burns goes, his message is much the same.

Mr. Burns usually says Mr. Schmoke is a bad manager. In contrast, Mr. Burns says he himself has the experience to run city government efficiently and rebuild the city's morale. He says his close relationship with Gov. William Donald Schaefer will benefit the city.

"Before this young man took over, the city's self-esteem was busting through the ceiling," Mr. Burns says. "But now, people don't feel as good about the city."

But while Mr. Burns makes all of those points in his stump

speech, he seldom, if ever, talks about specific things he would do as mayor. "That's the worst question you can ask a candidate, what he's going to do," Mr. Burns says. "You don't know what you're going to do until you get there. It all depends."

Meanwhile, Mr. Schmoke has a $1 million war chest and endorsements from a wide range of organizations and political clubs. But some members of these groups say they are only backing Mr. Schmoke because they don't see a viable alternative.

Mr. Schmoke's detractors say that the mayor has not worked hard enough to build the coalitions necessary to implement his programs and that he is aloof and lacks the common touch. But the mayor has garnered widespread support, some of it from people who privately concede that neither Mr. Burns nor the other Democrats offer a viable alternative.

"We want to back a winner and Burns doesn't seem to have the organization to win," said James M. Goble, president of the Universal Democratic Club, which boasts the largest membership in the 6th Council District.

Meanwhile, Mr. Swisher has been most visible in white neighborhoods in the 1st and 6th Councilmanic districts, where he has done well in past campaigns. His strategy is based on winning the white vote and capitalizing on a split in the black vote created by Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Burns.

Mr. Swisher has criticized the mayor for having body guards and a Lincoln Town Car to ferry him around town for business. He says he wants to radically streamline the city's 28,000-person workforce. He also says he would be a more down-to-earth mayor than Mr. Schmoke.

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