Primary and Secondary Winners


September 28, 1991|By DANIEL BERGER

Mayor Schmoke had a good Democratic primary. He won 57.5percent of the vote against seven opponents, two of whom had won past citywide elections for major office. Mr. Schmoke was nearly 18 percent ahead of the second-place finisher, the former Mayor Clarence H. ''Du'' Burns. That is a thumping.

The outcome is an endorsement of Mr. Schmoke's first term in office, compared to his initial victory in 1987, when he squeaked to 50.6 percent of the vote against 47.4 percent for Mr. Burns and a scattering for two nobodies.

It is, of course, less than the former Mayor William Donald Schaefer's sophomore showing in the Democratic primary of 1975, when Mr. Schaefer won more than 89 percent of a smaller turnout against two nonentities. But Mr. Schmoke was awesome compared to his suburban counterparts last year, when county executives of Baltimore and Howard counties were heaved out in general elections by a regional mood-swing that, for all anyone knew, took in the city.

Mr. Schmoke's showing this time has been called disappointing, but it is so only against a notional expectation that was held only by whoever claims to have been disappointed.

Still, the pre-eminent vote-getter of the primary is City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. Not because she took 90.4 percent of the vote against the obscure Daki Napata, but because no one of consequence dared enter the ring with her.

Yet the real winner of this primary is neither of the above. It is the Democratic nominee for comptroller, Jacqueline F. McLean. She transformed from a City Council member of bright prospect and no apparent municipal vision into a citywide winner and Board of Estimates member who will play the most meaningful role in the checks and balances of city government, if she chooses and does the grunt work.

Mrs. McLean was astute in tactics and use of funds. She proved again the truism of Baltimore politics that a candidate appealing to voters in both major racial groups will beat a candidate whose appeal is confined to one.

Mrs. McLean's 48.8 percent of the vote in a three-way race compares not badly to the 49.4 percent won by the legendary Hyman A. Pressman in 1987. Joseph T. ''Jody'' Landers III won 33.9 percent, compared to Tom Waxter's 25 percent in 1987, while Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway took only 17.1 percent, a comedown from her 21.5 percent four years earlier.

The able Mr. Landers has bounced out of public life. That need not be permanent. Mary Pat Clarke sailed into the wilderness on losing to Mr. Burns for City Council president in 1983, only to return in 1987 with a slim but winning 38.8 percent of the vote against the 34.8 percent of state Sen. Larry Young and the 24.4 percent of former state Sen. Harry J. McGuirk. That led to her invincibility this year.

Mr. Landers was a political outsider who barged into City Counciin the organization-dominated Third District in 1983, along with fellow upstart Mrs. McLean in the Second District. After the election of 1987 there was a mistaken temptation to call him a traditional pol, because he emerged as the forceful leader of his delegation and charted the tactic to strip Council President Clarke of the committee-appointing power.

His new clout was an illusion. Mrs. Clarke, her ally Second District Councilman Carl Stokes and the political numbers expert Art Murphy put over the redistricting plan of 1991. This did not get Mr. Landers, who was moving on to citywide aspiration. It did, however, destroy his Third District, giving its Belair Road corridor to the First District.

Or so the plan's backers intended. Mr. Stokes, whose leadership made him the Landers of 1991, said it would end machine politics. Many took this to mean Irish-American domination of a district that is not especially Irish-American.

In the event, Mr. Landers' colleagues, Martin E. (Mike) Curran (the lieutenant governor's brother) and Wilbur E. Cunningham, survived. Mr. Landers' seat was won by Martin O'Malley (the lieutenant governor's son-in-law). Giving the Third District a black majority only made the delegation more Irish. Mr. Stokes, at least, survived his own plan in his own Second District.

Old-fashioned politics did lose out in the First District, where the venerable Mimi DiPietro and John Schaefer could not adjust to new turf. But the new delegation has a traditional look, which might have been more diluted with no redistricting at all. In the black-majority Sixth District, one black nominee joined two white incumbents, providing he wins the General Election.

The great redistricting reform, in other words, proved to be a mere minor adjustment. Thanks to this attempt to increase the seven black members of the 18-seat council, there will be eight. Without it, there might have been nine.

But a real reform is menacing all incumbents next time, Mr.

Cunningham and Mr. Stokes alike. A referendum in the November general election to amend the City Charter would change the traditional six three-member districts to 18 single-member districts. There is no telling who might be elected under it, or what they would do in office.

This anti-establishment scheme was concocted by the city Republican Party and the NAACP in a pact with the devil, that is, each other.

Municipal statesmen can explain why it is a bad idea, but the handful of voters in a pro-forma general election will decide. All it takes is a little electoral devilment. If this earthquake passes, no one will remember the September primary under the Stokes redistricting plan.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Sun.

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