Charles Grote, a lifelong Democrat, listened to Republican City Council candidate Elaine Urbanski's pitch and was impressed by it. So impressed that Grote pledged his vote to Urbanski in the upcoming general election.
"Ten years ago I would have told her 'you're a nice-looking woman with a good message but sorry, you're a Republican,' " said Grote, 63, a retiree who lives in the Woodring neighborhood off Harford Road in the 3rd Councilmanic District.
"But now I think we need to look at all candidates, certainly the Democrats haven't straightened out the mess in the city," Grote said. "She's a smart woman and I think we should let some Republicans have a chance to see what they can do."
Nine Republican council candidates are running in the Nov. 5 election. And they are desperately searching for Democrats like Grote. Because Democrats outnumber Republicans by 9-to-1 in the city, GOP candidates cannot be elected without crossover votes.
In the 3rd District, for instance, there are 47,394 Democrats and 5,845 registered Republicans, according to the city election board, a ratio of approximately 8-to-1.
"We had been working hard to bring the ratio down in the 3rd and had managed to decrease it to 5 1/2 -to-1 before redistricting," said David R. Blumberg, chairman of the city Republican Party. The "old" 3rd before redistricting this year had 49,770 Democrats to 8,116 Republicans.
Redistricting caused a loss of Republicans in the 3rd. Many GOP voters live in areas that were moved into either the 5th or the 1st district. Democrats outnumber Republicans by approximately 8-to-1 in both districts.
GOP candidates also hope to attract supporters of Democratic candidates who lost in bitter primary elections.
For example, in Highlandtown, in the heart of the 1st District, Merle Velez attended the recent campaign headquarters opening for James H. Styles Jr., a Republican.
"I spent many years handing out ballots for [Dominic] Mimi DiPietro on election day and I'm real upset that he lost," said Velez. DiPietro, a 25-year council veteran, was defeated in the Democratic primary.
Velez said that DiPietro's loss angered her so much that she might vote for Styles, a 35-year-old self-employed contractor from Gardenville, a neighborhood that had been in the 3rd District until redistricting placed it in the 1st.
In their quest for votes, some Republican candidates do not reveal their their party affiliation. For example, Styles' lawn signs describe him as a 1st District council candidate and fail to mention that he is a Republican. And when Urbanski campaigns door to door, she rarely mentions her party affiliation unless she's asked about it.
"I want people to make their decision on me because they agree with what I stand for rather than my party affiliation," Urbanski said.
Contrary to Urbanski's style, Leo Wayne Dymowski, another GOP candidate in the 1st, boldly approaches voters with a an introduction that leaves nothing to the imagination.
"I'm a Republican candidate and I'm offering you a choice in this election," Dymowski tells them. "Do you want more of Gov. [William Donald] Schaefer, Mayor [Kurt L.] Schmoke and [City Council President] Mary Pat Clarke or do you want progress?"
His message struck a chord with Jim Pomfret, 43, an assistant manager of an investment firm. Pomfret is typical of the younger, more affluent and more conservative residents moving into new upscale housing along the Canton waterfront.
"I'm glad to see Republicans who aren't afraid to be out here campaigning," said Pomfret, a registered Democrat who describes himself as a "closet Republican."
Pomfret said he plans to change his party affiliation "because as I've matured, I've become more conservative, especially fiscally. The Democrats don't represent my views anymore. Many of my neighbors feel the same way."
No Republican has been elected to the council since 1939. But Blumberg, who has been active in GOP politics since the 1970s, said he was encouraged by the responses from voters like Grote and Pomfret.
"But we still have many more Democrats we need to give a reason to take a serious look at Republican council candidates," Blumberg said.
"This year's crop of candidates are better than in past elections and hopefully if several of them at least put in a respectable showing, it would go a long way in establishing more credibility for the party and its candidates that we can build on for the future," he said.