With less than $300 to spend on his campaign for City Council president, the Rev. Daki Napata can't rely on money to help him unseat incumbent Mary Pat Clarke.
He can't even rely on the group that he has worked with for years, the city's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, because they endorsed Mrs. Clarke.
So Mr. Napata, a 39-year-old civic activist, is left to rely on his inspirations: like Muhammed Ali (then, Cassius Clay) who took on favored champion Sonny Liston in 1964; Nelson Mandela, who refused to give into the discrimination of apartheid; and the recently elected mayor of Denver, Wellington Webb, who had almost no money but walked hundreds of miles meeting people in a shocking upset victory.
"These people let me know that I'm part of a movement and I'm not alone," said Mr. Napata, a resident of Irvington in Southwest Baltimore. But so far his movement has gained little ground and even his own commitment has wavered. Last month he briefly ended his campaign, feeling defeated and ignored.
Meanwhile the 50-year-old Mrs. Clarke, who over the last four years has made it a point to become the politician seen everywhere helping everyone, sweeps through the city winning endorsements. The former schoolteacher and geriatrics program coordinator talks to voters about issues ranging from improving the way the city collects trash to development along the waterfront to resetting budget priorities.
"The city has a limited amount of money," she said told a candidates' forum in Rognel Heights. "But unlike our neighbors in the Northeast part of the country, we have kept the city alive and running. Now we have to turn survival into success."
She has amassed more than $100,000 for her campaign and most say she would be unbeatable by even the most well-financed and organized candidates.
"I love her," says Carolyn Massey, president of the Rosemont Homeowners and Tenants Association in West Baltimore. "Any kind of problem we have we just call her and she comes to help."
Her challengers -- Mr. Napata and Republican candidate Anthony Cobb -- recognize the magnitude of their task, but each says he hopes his campaign will force Mrs. Clarke to respond to criticisms about her leadership style.
"Do you know that as soon as she got her power back to appoint committee chairs, she gave the appointments to two white males," Mr. Napata told a customer in a Southwest Baltimore barbershop. Mr. Napata was referring to a heated City Council meeting in which Mrs. Clarke demanded that the council return her appointment powers -- the powers they voted to take away from her four years earlier.
"I don't have anything against white males," Mr. Napata continued. "But she talks about inclusion for all people and then she turns around and does that."
Mr. Napata spends a lot of time asking for votes in community markets, churches and barbershops like Lenny's in Poppleton. Inside the window of the shop at the corner of West Fayette and Carrollton streets are two campaign posters that Mr. Napata made using colored markers and cut-out pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lenny Clay, 65, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1958, said he has seen Poppleton decline quickly over the years.
"[Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke] has been here and seen this mess," Mr. Clay said while standing in front of an abandoned house, behind the shop, that is being used as a neighborhood dump. "He just shook his head, but he never did anything about it.
"Daki has the people at heart," said Mr. Clay, a thin, plainspoken man with a gray beard. "I've seen him walk down the streets talking to kids about staying in school. He tells the boys to stay away from drugs and tells the girls to keep their skirts down."
Mr. Cobb, a 52-year-old Irvington resident with a wide grin and an elegant Southern drawl, is unopposed in the Republican primary, so he will automatically be on the November ballot against either Mrs. Clarke or Mr. Napata. He says he hopes to raise the point that the City Council should take advantage of it's greatest power -- oversight of the city budget.
Mr. Cobb, who works at the National Federation for the Blind, says he has raised $200 for his campaign but expects many more contributions before the general election.
"I'm having a great time," he said. "I recognize the magnitude of the task ahead of me, but when I was asked about running for City Council president I told folks, 'Look I'm really going to do this all the way.' "
COUNCIL PRESIDENT RACES
DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY *Mary Pat Clarke
Occupation: Full-time president of City Council.
Education: Immaculata College, A.B., English, 1963; University of Pennsylvania, M.A., English literature, 1966; Ph.D. student in writing program, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania.