Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke easily outdistanced Samuel A. Culotta to win a second term in office and lead a Democratic sweep in a lethargic municipal election.
Only 27.4 percent of the city's registered voters cast their ballots yesterday, the poorest General Election showing in many years. In 1987, turnout was 34 percent and in 1983 it was 37 percent.
Barbara E. Jackson, administrator for the Board of Supervisors of Elections, said today that in her 24 years of watching people vote in Baltimore, the turnout was the lowest.
"People feel disenfranchised and think that it's a lost cause to vote," Jackson said. "They're not voting, of course, doesn't help . . . This has gone beyond apathy. It's essentially distrust in the entire system."
Besides re-electing Schmoke, the voters who went to the polls rejected the Republicans, sweeping all of the Democratic nominees into office. Question L, which would have divided the city into 18 single-member council districts, lost.
The ballot question was opposed by most of the Democratic nominees, who preferred that city voters continue to elect three council members from each of six districts.
In the race for council president, incumbent Mary Pat Clarke sprinted past Republican Anthony D. Cobb to win re-election by receiving better than 83 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Jacqueline F. McLean was elected comptroller, trouncing Republican Marshall W. Jones Jr., who managed 17 percent of the vote.
In council races, Democrats easily captured all 18 seats, continuing a winning streak dating to 1939.
Also, all of the bond questions on the ballot were approved by overwhelming margins.
The mayor's race was never in doubt, as Schmoke powered past Culotta with more than 72 percent of the vote. The lopsided victory was tempered by the city's dire economic problems. Schmoke is wrestling with a $25 million budget deficit caused by cuts in state aid. "Economic problems have put a cloud over a lot of things," Schmoke said. "I think for a lot of people there is a sense of relief that this is over."
Schmoke said that addressing the city's economic problems will be at the top of his agenda immediately.
Schmoke said the challenge he now faces is to streamline city government. "We have to get about the business of reorganizing city government," he said. "Just as many corporations have had to reorganize, we have to reorganize."
The house-party air of Schmoke's victory party reflected the campaign's sensitivity to the dismal economic times.
For example, the food was home-cooked rather than catered. Beer and sodas were available in ice-filled trash cans. Music was pumped from a stereo because the campaign did not hire a band. And the party itself was held in the crowded maze of offices that form Schmoke's campaign headquarters instead of a banquet hall. "We didn't want to throw money around when so many people are out of work," said campaign treasurer Ronald M. Shapiro.
While Schmoke was discussing plans for a second term, Culotta vented anger over the scant support he received from the Republican Party.
"The state Republican Party gave the city party $500 to print ballots, $500 -- that's it," Culotta said. "We've been abandoned by the state and national party. The Republican Party has got to realize it must spread its umbrella to include urban centers. And President Bush has got to do something to respond to the problems of cities like Baltimore."
Culotta, who has run for mayor in every election since 1979, said he will not campaign for the post again. He raised about $12,000 for his campaign, "most of it from family and friends who believed in me." Meanwhile, Schmoke raised $1.6 million.
Clarke quickly brought the focus to the city's fiscal problems. She said she was "pleased and honored to be re-elected. We face some very difficult times and we all need to work together to see us through it."
McLean celebrated her victory in the comptroller's race with a festive party at The Forum in northwest Baltimore. McLean made her way through the party hugging supporters, and even stepped out on the dance floor a few times to do the Electric Slide. "I feel wonderful. I feel great," said McLean, who was meeting today with retiring Comptroller Hyman A. Pressman, a seven-term incumbent, to begin mapping her transition plans.
Jones, who had campaigned on a platform that urged people to make a two-party system a reality in Baltimore, seemed stunned at the margin of McLean's victory.
"I thought the margin would be closer than it was," Jones said. "I guess it shows that voters are not interested in the political process or a two-party system."
Elaine E. Urbanski, who ran one of the most active campaigns for City Council in the 3rd District, was optimistic despite losing by better than a 2-1 margin.
Winners: City Elections
1st Dist .. 2nd Dist. .. 3rd Dist. .. 4th Dist .. .. 5th Dist .. 6th Dist
D'Adamo .. Ambridge .. .. Curran .. .. Bell .. .. .. Hall .. .. DiBlasi