Anthony D. Cobb, the GOP candidate for president of the Baltimore City Council, was a little nervous as he sought support from the Maryland Pro-Life Coalition.
"I'm not sure what I'm getting into," said Cobb, 52, who describes himself as a progressive Republican. "My philosophies are not quite in line with theirs, but if any of them are willing to help me anyway, I'll be grateful."
Cobb is generally opposed to abortion, but says he is "unwilling to use the government as an instrument to impose that belief on others." Groups such as the Maryland Pro-Life Coalition favor legislation or a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to outlaw all abortions.
In Baltimore, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 9-1, Cobb and other Republicans face an uphill battle and must find support wherever they can.
While addressing the coalition, Cobb appealed to the group's "pro-family" philosophy by saying he wanted to make Baltimore a place "where we can educate all our children equally and strengthen family values."
After the speech, Cobb sought volunteers for his campaign. One lawyer said he would help pass out GOP ballots on election day.
"Thank you so very much," said Cobb.
The campaign for council president pits Cobb, a relative newcomer on the city political scene, against Mary Pat Clarke, the popular Democratic incumbent who is seeking her second term. So far, both candidates have mounted low-key campaigns.
Cobb has mainly confined himself to campaigning on weekends. And Clarke said she has made stops at community meetings.
"I've been busy dealing with the budget crises in the city and preparing the council for its new term which starts in December," said Clarke, who raised more than $117,000 for the primary campaign alone.
Cobb, who has raised $2,000, said: "I go to where the largest gathering of people are to maximize my effort."
Cobb said he has asked a number of groups, including the League of Women Voters, to sponsor a forum so he can debate Clarke. So far, no group has shown an interest in sponsoring a Clarke-Cobb debate.
On Oct. 25, the League of Women Voters is sponsoring a forum, but it will be restricted to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and his GOP opponent, Samuel A. Culotta.
Cobb says he has found city politics in Baltimore a far cry from the spirited political wars between Democrats and Republicans in his native Tennessee.
"It's been a real eye-opener, running as a Republican for a citywide office in Baltimore City," said Cobb. "Republican candidates are so automatically written off, it's almost impossible to find anyone willing to give campaign money."
Cobb grew up in Nashville and he has been an English teacher in high school and college. He got his indoctrination to politics as a member of the progressive arm of the Tennessee Democratic Party. That arm of the party spawned former U.S. Sens. Estes Kefauver and Albert Gore Sr.
Cobb left Tennessee's Democratic Party when the progressive arm lost strength. He decided that the other portion of the party was too racist.
Cobb became a member of the Tennessee GOP, which was dominated by moderates whose roots went back to the anti-secessionists of the Civil War period.
A job offer to be director of operations for the National Federation of the Blind brought him to Baltimore in 1986. While some people encouraged him to look for housing in Baltimore County, he and his wife, Marie, decided on a "renovator's dream house" on Augusta Avenue in Irvington, an integrated neighborhood.
"I think living in a racially mixed community gives you a better perspective on the problems facing the city, because these problems cut across racial lines," said Cobb. "For whites to be committed to living in a city that is 60 percent black and where blacks are now flexing their political muscle, they [whites] have to keep their equilibrium."
In his only other political campaign, Cobb won election last year to the GOP central committee in the 41st Legislative District.
A positive campaigner, Cobb tried to avoid criticizing Clarke by name as he emphasized the need for better leadership from the council president.
"The leader of the council needs to know when to be hard-nosed and when to be be a broker," said Cobb.
Told what Cobb had said, Clarke remarked: "I've done exactly that. I certainly respect Mr. Cobb and hope he continues to be a valuable resource for the city."
Cobb stressed the importance of the council president working closely with the mayor. That has not been the case with Clarke and Schmoke, Cobb said.
But Clarke maintains that she and the mayor "have always gotten along professionally and will continue to do so because the city depends on that."
Cobb also vowed, if elected, to reduce the size of the council president's staff which now numbers eight. He also would eschew the limousine and driver that is made available to the council president.
Two years ago, it was reported that Clarke's driver made more than $60,000 -- nearly $40,000 in overtime. Afterward, Clarke took steps to reduce the overtime by two-thirds, including doing some of the driving herself.
RF "I have a good car and am perfectly capable of driving it myself,"
Clarke said she is reviewing the idea of keeping the limousine and a driver, "not because of anything Mr. Cobb is saying, but because with the city's financial difficulties, we have to look at things that are not absolutely essential."