Sam Culotta thinks this may be his year GOP candidate is upbeat on familiar turf.

October 25, 1991|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Evening Sun Staff

Republican mayoral candidate Sam Culotta's out shoe-leathering for votes around Northeast Market when this homeless man hits him up for a handout.

Culotta digs two quarters out of his pocket for the guy, shakes his hand and urges him to have "courage."

"Courage," Culotta says. He gives the word an Italian twist.

"Pazienza e corragio," he says. "My mother used to say that. The Sicilians had that saying. You know what it means: 'Patience and courage.' "

Patience and courage are certainly qualities Culotta has in abundance. His courage is indisputable and self-evident. Nobody runs every four years for mayor as a Republican in Baltimore without considerable courage -- and enormous patience.

Culotta, who debates Democratic incumbent Kurt L. Schmoke at 8 o'clock tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2), last won an election in 1954. He was elected to the House of Delegates from the 3rd District.

"I topped the ticket," he loves to say. "I got more votes than anyone ever received in our city, 33,000."

Culotta has never won since. He has run for mayor without success every four years since 1975. He became the Republican candidate this year by the skin-of-your-teeth margin of 84 votes. He was losing until they counted absentee ballots.

But he's eternally optimistic. He's smiling and friendly and polite as he strides through Northeast Market. And he sees a positive trend in every handshake. A stallkeeper in the market slaps up his campaign sticker and he's ecstatic.

"Either people are nice or I'm going to win this election," he says. "The reaction I'm getting McKeldin didn't get in his heyday."

Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, twice Republican governor of Maryland and twice mayor of Baltimore, was Culotta's mentor and patron and remains his hero and model.

Culotta campaigned for McKeldin 40 years ago. He was only 26 when he became McKeldin's secretary. His own courtly campaign style recalls McKeldin's.

"Hello, I'm Sam Culotta. I'm running for mayor. May I shake your hand? May I give you my card? Thank you."

But Culotta campaigns on quite a strong contemporary platform.

He says he'll seek authority for an earnings or a commuters tax.

"The city ought not to continue to pussyfoot in seeking an earnings tax nor be fearful of retaliation by the metropolitan counties," he says, in a campaign white paper.

He points out the city's demonstrated need and a property tax generally about twice that of the suburban counties.

He pledges to ask the governor to declare a state of emergency in Baltimore for six months and mobilize a minimum of 200 to 400 state troopers and national guardsmen to patrol the city with the police force "to take back Edmondson and North avenues from the drug dealers and other criminals who seem to run rampant in these areas."

He promises to ask for a $5 million bond issue to restore vacant houses in the city. He'd take legal action to attempt to establish equality in pupil funding for public education throughout the state. He says he'll personally strive to reduce the "infamous stigma" of the rate of infant mortality in Baltimore.

"My theme is to restore government to City Hall and take it out of the law offices of Gibson and Shapiro," he says, in a gibe at Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and his two closest advisers, Larry Gibson and Ron Shapiro, who are partners in the law firm.

In this overwhelmingly Democratic city, Culotta thinks he can win with 65,000 votes, which is about twice the vote he got in 1987 against Schmoke.

"It could be a horse race," he says. "I'm going to get a much greater turnout in the 1st, 3rd and 6th District.

"There's going to be passion and intensity on the part of people who don't like Schmoke," he says. He believes run-of-the-mill Schmoke supporters will be more passive. "Only his core people will come out."

"A lot of expectations weren't met," he says. "He's failed in education; he's failed in crime; he's failed in the area of taxes."

On this day, Culotta's carrying his campaign to Northeast, Cross Street and Lafayette markets. "Shoe-leathering," he calls it. He's following an old McKeldin route. He shakes hands, passes out his stickers and talks up his candidacy.

He starts with Giuseppe Michael Cirincione, who's hanging out behind his son's produce stand in the market. They know each other a long time. They're both Sicilianos.

"My relatives are anybody named Culotta, Cimino, Lazaro, Mufaletto, D'Anna, Glorioso," Culotta says. "Three Ciminos married three Culottas.

"My father first went to New Orleans," he says. "You find more Culottas in New Orleans than here."

"My father went to Kansas City to work on the railroad," says Cirincione. "My mother didn't like it there. They came here and he went into the banana business. My father raised eight kids selling bananas."

"They were all from Cefalu," says Culotta. Cefalu's an ancient city founded by the Phoenicians on the north coast of Sicily.

"They got more Cefalutanis in Baltimore than they got in Cefalu," Cirincione says. "They all started out selling bananas."

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