Roundly criticized for refusing to debate his rivals during the final days of the Democratic primary campaign, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has agreed to debate Republican mayoral nominee Samuel A. Culotta.
Details of the encounter have yet to be worked out, but Clinton R. Coleman, Schmoke's press secretary, said yesterday that the mayor has agreed to debate Culotta, his opponent in the Nov. 5 general election.
"He hopes that this time the debate will be worked out and scheduled well before the final week of the campaign," Coleman said.
Culotta said he learned Schmoke would debate him during a street-corner discussion yesterday with Schmoke's campaign chairman, Larry S. Gibson.
"Gibson said the mayor has agreed to an early debate and that we should have representatives meet and work out the ground rules," Culotta said.
Culotta said that both sides would be contacting Arnold Kleiner, general manager of WMAR-TV, to attempt to have the debate televised.
"I'm excited about this. I think it will be an interesting debate," said Culotta, who lost to Schmoke in 1987. "It will benefit the voters and make this campaign a fair one."
In a debate, Culotta could be expected to raise the same issues he trumpeted in the Republican primary campaign. He said then that Schmoke has not pushed Baltimore's interests aggressively enough in the Maryland General Assembly. He claimed that Schmoke did not do enough to support the Linowes Commission recommendations to raise taxes and give much of the new revenue to the city.
Culotta said during the primary that, if elected mayor, he would push for more cooperation between the city and suburban counties. If that failed, he said, he would seek legislative approval to impose a tax on the estimated 400,000 people who commute to work in Baltimore from elsewhere.
The Republican also said that a state militia should be deployed in Baltimore to fight crime until the city received state aid to hire more police officers.
During the primary campaign, Schmoke refused to debate his two leading Democratic rivals, former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns and William A. Swisher, a former state's attorney. Schmoke said he would debate only if all eight Democratic candidates were included. When such a debate was arranged during the campaign's closing days, Schmoke bowed out, saying his campaign schedule was full.
Schmoke, who won convincingly in the Sept. 12 primary, was hit by several newspaper editorials and commentaries criticizing him for not debating his Democratic rivals and laying out his agenda for a second term.
The mayor, however, has maintained that his plans have been made clear in speeches and other public statements.
The exposure that comes with a debate should be a boon for Culotta, who has been the Republican mayoral nominee six times and has been the GOP standard-bearer in each mayoral election since 1979.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 9 to 1 among Baltimore's registered voters, and Culotta would need to pull many Democratic votes to have a chance of upsetting Schmoke.