The Schmoke victory

September 13, 1991

Mayor Kurt Schmoke's primary victory yesterday was, in many respects, as lackluster as the campaign that preceded it. The low voter turnout -- barely more than a third of the city's registered voters -- can only be read as a sign of a pervasive apathy in Baltimore.

In every district in the city, residents articulated concern over a broad range of issues during the months preceding the election -- from property taxes to education to housing. That only 107,193 people cast ballots -- 58 percent of them for the mayor -- seems to suggest most residents either believe the problems are insurmountable or, perhaps worse, that it doesn't really make much difference who runs the city.

Part of the blame belongs to Schmoke himself. "I'm not Arsenio Hall," the mayor quipped in his victory statement last night by way of explaining the lack of excitement of the primary campaign. Assuredly, the mayor is correct that a political campaign is not a comic opera staged for the entertainment of the people. But the fact is, the mayor ran something of a stealth campaign by refusing to debate his Democratic opponents. Former Mayor Clarence Du Burns took one or two spirited jabs at Schmoke's claims of his accomplishments during his first term, but it was, in the end, like shadow boxing. No real issues ever crystallized. That, coupled with the mayor's massive $1 million war chest and the phenomenon known as "the incumbent advantage," is what ultimately won so decisively for Schmoke.

Given the city's skewed pattern of voter registration -- 30,500 Republicans vs. 282,000 Democrats -- Schmoke is now virtually assured victory in November over whatever nominee eventually emerges as the winner of the photo finish GOP primary. Nonetheless, the mayor could show magnanimity in victory by inviting the Republican nominee to participate in a substantive debate so Baltimore's citizens can clearly understand the views of the two men who seek to lead the city for the next four years. In addition, Schmoke can perhaps jump start community spirit with some discreet new appointments in top cabinet positions and by taking a more aggressive role in issues from housing and education to regionalism and health care.

* * * The decisive primary victory of Jacqueline F. McLean in the comptroller's race puts her in a position to be a strong independent voice in the coming four years in City Hall.

The other big non-surprise in yesterday's primary was the victory of 13 of the 18 incumbent City Council members. Had it not been for the loss of those worn-out warhorses, Dominic Mimi DiPietro and John Schaefer, the incumbents seeking re-election would have made practically a clean sweep. So the conclusion is, the vaunted radical redistricting of the city had virtually no effect at all on the makeup of the new council.

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