For DiPietro, it was a long drive home Council dean finds it hard to accept defeat.

September 13, 1991|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Evening Sun Staff

Domimic Mimi DiPietro stood outside in the dark. No one cheered. No one slapped him on the back.

The polls had closed. His handful of poll workers at his home precinct in Highlandtown had gone home.

And there on the sidewalk stood DiPietro, 86, a City Council member for 25 years, a local legend who was forever "for the people," contemplating defeat in the dark.

L "I ran third in my own precinct," he mumbled. "I ran third."

He finished fifth in the overall voting for the Democratic nominations to the 1st District's three council seats.

DiPietro is the dean of the council, a member since 1966. Second in seniority is 1st District incumbent John A. Schaefer, 63, a councilman since 1971.

Schaefer also lost, finishing fourth.

The three winners were incumbent Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. with 12,246 votes, and newcomers Perry Sfikas with 9,993 votes and John Cain with 6,850 votes. Schaefer received 5,923 votes, and DiPietro 5,855.

Cain, on leave as editor of the East Baltimore Guide, a community newspaper, ran his campaign "on a shoestring," said his brother, Francis. But last night, in a cluttered, vacant store in Fells Point, Cain presided over a victory party fit for a millionaire.

He said voters thought DiPietro was too old. "And people," he said, "were fed up with Schaefer -- with his reputation, for one thing, with the perception that he doesn't do anything, for another. There's a certain arrogance about him. It finally caught up with him."

Inside the vacant store at Fleet and South Washington streets, Steve Bunker, a community activist, handed Cain a brush and shouted: "Clean sweep!"

Cain answered with this chant: "The machine is dead! The machine in the 1st District is dead!"

He meant the old political machines that have controlled East Baltimore politics for years. The three winners in the 1st District council race were not associated with any organization.

Cain described the politics of Schaefer and DiPietro as "pothole politics." He said they are so concerned with helping constituents get potholes filled they have no time to consider the real issues -- taxes, schools, car insurance, health care, crime, the environment.

While Cain celebrated, Schaefer presided over a glum gathering at the Polish National Alliance in Fells Point. Schaefer, DiPietro and Joseph R. Ratajczak, a state Department of Transportation worker, ran on the same ticket. This was to be their victory party.

"The change will be good for me," he said, trying to smile. "All my people have been telling me now I won't have to work so hard."

"No more potholes," chimed in Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-City, who had struck a political bargain with Schaefer last year to put this ticket together.

And no more potholes for DiPietro.

He spent the day outside the polls at Highlandtown Elementary School, around the corner from his home on Claremont Street. He shook the hands of men, saying: "Hi son, God bless you. You can always come down to City Hall and see me. I'm there five days a week."

He shook the hands of women, holding them a little longer than the men's, saying: "See how those girls talk to me? . . . I got to do a lot for these people. I got friends in the city of Baltimore, and I call them up and they help my people."

A half block away inside his house, his wife, Frances, sat in the living room and talked about her husband.

"He's rough, and he's tough, but he's got a very soft heart," she said. "He's loud, and he cusses like a sailor, but he doesn't mean anything by it . . . I don't know what he'll do if he loses the election. I don't think he'll know what to do with himself. He'll probably get sick."

Two hours later, after learning he'd finished third in his own precinct, DiPietro looked tired and pale. Asked whether he wanted to join his friends at the Polish hall, he said: "I don't think I want to go.

"No, I'm not going to go. I didn't carry my precinct. What do I got to go for?"

He thought for a moment.

"All right, fella," he said to a reporter, "I'll see you. I'm going home."

He stepped off the curb toward his car, took a couple of steps into the street and turned around and said: "If I didn't do good here, I can't do good no other place."

He walked to his car, fiddled with his keys and got in. He drove slowly home, alone, his last campaign run.

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