Republicans find a silver lining in the cloud of defeat

November 06, 1991|By Sandy Banisky Ginger Thompson and Rafael Alvarez of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Another Election Day in the big city. Another grim opportunity for wildly outnumbered Baltimore Republicans to march nobly into the line of political fire. Another certain defeat at the hands of smug and victorious Democrats . . .

"No, no, no," interrupted David Blumberg, head of the Baltimore Republican Party, waving his arms in protest. That scenario is outdated and all wrong, he insisted. The Republican political horizon was rosy.

"Do I look grim?" Mr. Blumberg demanded as he worked the polls at Falstaff Middle School in Northwest Baltimore. "Do I?"

But that was before the votes were counted. By 10 p.m., two hours after the polls closed, it was clear that, once again, this would not be the year that Republicans would break the Democratic stranglehold on city politics.

By the time it was over, Republicans had lost, and lost badly, on every ballot position, from mayor through the council presidency, comptroller and all 18 members of the City Council.

They lost in the one City Council race, in the Third District, where their brightest and most energetic candidate, Elaine Urbanski, had been given the best chance in years for a Republican council victory.

They even lost the ballot question on which they were pinning their hopes for the future: Question L, the charter amendment that would have changed the City Council from six three-member districts to 18 districts with one council member each.

And so it goes in overwhelmingly, unrelentingly Democratic Baltimore, where 9.2 Democrats are registered to vote for every Republican. Each Election Day dawns bright with hopes for an against-the-odds political miracle. And each election for the last generation has ended in defeat, with brave talk about the future.

"Low turnout," Mr. Blumberg said after the votes were in last night. "And we were outspent and probably outmanned. I think )) this gives us a base though. We've got a lot of people involved who were never active before. It's certainly a good party-building exercise for us."

Though Question L lost, the campaign was not in vain, he said. A charter-review committee is poised to propose a change in the structure of the council, and single-member districts will now have to be on the agenda.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Blumberg had been so hopeful. And across town, Samuel A. Culotta, topping the Republican ticket as mayoral candidate for the fourth straight time, was so optimistic he had all but declared victory.

"I'm going to win," he said yesterday afternoon with the assurance of a child certain that Santa Claus will arrive on Christmas Eve. "From what I heard, voting is light on the west side, lighter than on the east side. That means I win."

But east side, west side, Mr. Culotta was badly beaten by his Democratic opponent, as he was in 1987, and in 1983, and before that, in 1979.

Last night, he said, he had carried his own precinct overwhelmingly. "That made me feel like everything was going to be great," Mr. Culotta said. "But then the rest of the city came in."

Mr. Culotta had voted at 9 a.m., worked the polls in Mayfield, taken a pair of shoes to the shoemaker for new heels, lunched on crab cakes at Haussner's, then returned to the office. He said he saw no reason to wear himself out running from polling place to polling place.

"I'm the guy who believes in destino," he said, spicing the sentence with some Italian. "Destiny. Whether I win or lose doesn't depend on what I do today."

He offered the standard reasons for why Republicans should have hope on Election Day: The mood of the electorate is changing, and voters are no longer inclined to automatically re-elect incumbents.

Indeed, as Republicans look for support for their tender thesis, they can point to last November, when Republicans defeated Democrats in races for county executive in Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and Howard County.

And yet, even on an Election Day shot through with such optimism, on a day filled with such bravado, Mr. Culotta, Mr. Blumberg and their Republican colleagues knew the odds still were against them.

The last Republican City Council member was elected in 1939. The last Republican mayor was elected in 1963. A Republican won the comptroller's race that year, but that man was Hyman A. Pressman -- who was a registered Democrat running on the Republican ticket. He promptly became a Democrat again.

There's never been a Republican elected City Council president.

"You need to have the strength of your convictions," Mr. Blumberg said about being a Baltimore Republican. "You need to have a lot of resiliency, and you need a sense of humor."

You also need a sense of discretion.

In the heavily Democratic lower Broadway section of East Baltimore, Republican First District City Council candidate James Styles had campaign workers on nearly every corner handing out his leaflets. The literature identified Mr. Styles as a "conservative." Nowhere on the fliers did the word "Republican" appear.

"I don't know why it should be a dirty word," shrugged one of Mr. Styles' workers.

Mr. Styles wasn't the only Republican downplaying his party affiliation. In heavily Democratic Northwest Baltimore, Vaughn Paul Deckret was handing voters a leaflet that never mentioned his political affiliation. "I'm realistic," he said. "Am I a Republican? Absolutely. I didn't say it anywhere."

Larry Rosen, a Democrat until six months ago and now running for City Council as a Republican, had calculated the odds. "It's a long shot,"he said of his candidacy. "I told my relatives in New York: 'Don't worry. If I win, I don't have to call you. You'll see it on the national news.' "

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