In the best tradition of the free-swinging political battles in the district known as the Fighting First, the three GOP City Council candidates are not only taking roundhouse punches at their Democratic opponents, they are also throwing jabs at one another.
During a recent candidates' forum in northeast Baltimore, for example, Leo Wayne Dymowski, like his two GOP colleagues Joseph DiPasquale and James H. Styles Jr., wasted no time taking dead aim against the Democrats.
"If you support wasteful government spending, if you support runaway crime, if you support inadequate schools, then vote for the three Democrats because they support Mayor Kurt Schmoke and council President Mary Pat Clarke, the ones who have given you this mess," bellowed Dymowski.
Dymowski has also reserved some of his fight for the other two Republican council candidates. He described DiPasquale and Styles as being "politically stupid" because they would not run with him on a joint ticket. The three GOP candidates are running separate campaigns.
Sparked by Dymowski's criticism, DiPasquale replied: "I'm tired of being a political punching bag. He's got a lot of nerve complaining about my campaign."
With the Nov. 5 general election less than two weeks away, this lack of party unity among the Republicans will only make their task harder in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 8-1.
Perry Sfikas, John Cain and incumbent Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., Democrats who ran independently of each other in the primary, are campaigning under a unified party banner. They were the winners of a sometimes nasty Democratic primary in which two incumbents, Dominic Mimi DiPietro and John A. Schaefer, were unseated.
"I've tried to get the three party candidates together, but they feel there is a slim opportunity for just one of them to win in the district and each candidate is looking out for himself," said David R. Blumberg, city GOP chair.
Nonetheless, the GOP candidates hope to take advantage of Schmoke's lack of popularity in the district and the electorate's dissatisfaction with property taxes and reduced services caused budget cuts. During the September primary, Schmoke received 5,308 votes in the 1st District, compared with 9,645 for former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns, who ran second in the citywide balloting.
"The city, which is run by the Democrats, is looked at as a beggar, constantly asking for more money to waste," said DiPasquale. "It should be the strong economic center of the state."
DiPasquale, 32, manages his family's well-known Italian grocery store and deli in Highlandtown. This is his first campaign for public office.
Although DiPasquale doesn't appear to be campaigning as vigorously as Dymowski, the Democrats appear to be more concerned with his champaign.
"He's well-known in Highlandtown because of his store and there are a lot of Italians in both ends of the district," said D'Adamo.
Dymowski, 35, an attorney, has been the most visible in the general election campaign. He's a veteran of 1st District political fights, having run unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the state legislature in the 1970s.
"The three Democrats are going to be too closely tied with Schmoke to stand up for you," he tells voters. "If I'm elected, there is no way Schmoke will be able to control me."
Styles, 35, a home improvement contractor, said city government needs to be run more like a business. He said the Democrats' solution to everything "is to throw money at it and hope it works."
But if the reaction after the Glenham-Belford forum is any indication, the Republicans need to do their homework better.
Terry Jones, a retiree, said she thought that while the Republicans were outspoken, "overall, I felt the Democrats had a much better grasp on the issues."
The Democrats counter their GOP criticism by noting that it was
former President Reagan, a Republican, who cut funds to America's cities.
D'Adamo, Sfikas and Cain have been campaigning together at senior citizen centers during the day and going door to door in the evening.
They plan to do several joint campaign mailings to the district, to pass out joint campaign brochures and to share poll workers on election day. And they pledge to better represent the district as a team.
D'Adamo, 33, won his seat in 1987 running an independent campaign. The manager of a discount department store in Highlandtown, D'Adamo was left off the incumbent ticket by Schaefer and DiPietro. He finished a strong first in the Democratic primary.
Sfikas, 35, was a constituent service aide to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., before leaving to run for a council seat. He finished a strong second in the primary voting.
Cain, 51, who left his job as editor of the East Baltimore Guide community newspaper to run, ran a shoestring campaign that nonetheless took maximum advantage of the voters' mood to throw out the older incumbents.