City Republicans' Uphill Fight

September 17, 1991

In a few days, all the Democratic losers in last week's primary will receive a letter from the city Republican Party. "It's not you," the letter comforts the losers, "it's the system that's flawed." The missive then asks the Democrats to support a city charter amendment in the Nov. 5 general election that would divide Baltimore into 18 single-member City Council districts, instead of the six three-member districts now in use.

For months, the city's minuscule Republican Party has been seeking Democratic allies for its proposal about single-member City Council districts. At first, support was needed to put the issue on the ballot as Question L. Now, broader voter backing is needed. "I'm not going to let them bury us by saying that it is a Republican trick," city GOP Chairman David Blumberg says.

The single-member district issue is the best thing Republicans have going for them in November. Last week's primary election produced enough upsets to confuse many candidates' plans. Take the predicament of Leo Wayne Dymowski. One of the three Republican candidates in the heavily Democratic First District, Mr. Dymowski had counted on the victory of two long-time incumbents who seemed ripe for GOP challenges in November. But both Dominic Mimi DiPietro and John A. Schaefer were trounced by independent Democrats and now Mr. Dymowski says, "I have 30,000 pieces of literature coming out of the printers and I feel like eating them."

Although Republicans have appealing candidates in the Third and Fifth districts, they have little chance for victory. The same goes for Samuel A. Culotta, the mayoral hopeful, GOP City Council president candidate Anthony D. Cobb and comptroller candidate Marshall W. Jones Jr. They have only slim hope in a city where Democrats maintain a 9-1 edge in registration.

Things could be worse -- and they have been, insists Mr. Blumberg, recalling that in 1986 the Democrats' held an 11-1 edge over Republicans. A lively primary campaign this year among three articulate and forceful mayoral candidates -- Bruce Price, Joseph Scalia and Mr. Culotta -- did much to reinvigorate the party. The three ended election night in a photo finish that was not decided until absentee ballots were counted a day later. It was by far the closest race of Baltimore's primary.

This is a start for Republicans. But much work and effort will be required before the party can truly flex its muscles. After all, Baltimore has not elected a Republican mayor for 28 years and saw its last GOP councilman leave office in 1942.

The goal of the city's current GOP leadership is a Republican club in each district. Even with the present six district setup, that is an ambitious undertaking: only three clubs exist now. Interest stemming from the GOP's tight mayoral primary should help in this rudimentary organizational chore. As Mr. Blumberg aptly puts it, "You've got to crawl before you walk."

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