Clinton visit opens bid in Maryland Democrat tours city with Schmoke

February 23, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Bill Clinton launched his bid yesterday for the support of Maryland Democrats in the March 3 presidential primary, with bTC Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hailing his vision and leadership from the pulpit of a major black church.

Calling for a "new covenant" between a demoralized people and their government, the Arkansas governor promised "not just a deal, but a solemn agreement to create new opportunity" in the United States.

The nation has been divided deliberately along racial and class lines by Republican politicians for the last 12 years, he charged -- but he quickly added: "I don't care whose fault it is anymore. I just want to do something about it."

Acknowledging that strong support from Baltimore blacks is crucial to his chances in Maryland, Mr. Clinton spoke to about 400 people at Douglas Memorial Community Church on Bolton Hill. He made a walking tour of the Nehemiah low-income housing development on West Stricker Street and addressed a union rally in South Baltimore.

With Mayor Schmoke at the top of his Maryland team, Mr. Clinton's hope for a strong turnout among black voters -- who make up 25 percebt to 30 percent of the state's Democratic Party -- appeared to be vastly strengthened.

The mayor announced his endorsement of Mr. Clinton yesterday, then later introduced the Arkansas governor at the church.

"If the mayor thinks Governor Clinton is the right guy, I'll be with him," said Wayman Henry Jr., president of the East End Forum, one of the many politically active clubs Mr. Schmoke's endorsement could energize.

The Rev. Marion Bascom, one of the city's most influential ministers, gave the invocation yesterday, calling for new national leadership and lamenting an era of greed in which he said cities have been abandoned to crime and homelessness.

Denying that Maryland's primary has diminished importance in his national campaign strategy, Mr. Clinton said he wants to campaign in the "Beltway" neighborhoods outside Washington, where he believes his proposals for economic recovery are not fully disseminated or understood. Maryland Democrats working on his campaign say that upper-middle-class voters could become a pivotal constituency in the race here.

One of the Arkansas governor's strongest opponents in Maryland, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, derides Mr. Clinton's call for tax concessions to the middle class as inconsequential for most families, as "pandering" and as promises of a political "Santa Claus."

Mr. Clinton said such criticism would be fair if all he was offering was tax breaks.

"In the aggregate," he said during an interview after the rally, "the infusion of money from the tax cut would provide a boost to the economy for a year or two."

Beyond that, he called it "a down payment on fairness" to that part of society that has been shut out of the economic system created by Republicans. A few hundred dollars would be significant for some low-income families and more than welcome, he said.

"I don't think the American people want a handout," Mr. Clinton said, "but they do need a hand up."

His campaign manager in Maryland, Jay Rouse, dismissed Mr. Tsongas' program as "cold showers and root canal."

In a blueprint for recovery of cities distributed yesterday, Mr. Clinton advocated a lower tax rate and local development banks for new businesses. He also proposed to do away with the student loan program, replacing it with a more comprehensive system of loans that could be repaid with community service in schools, drug treatment programs and police departments.

"I think there's a lot of support for a program to reduce the amount of human loss. Most people know they're paying for it when people can't live up to their potential."

Mr. Henry of the East End Forum said he thinks he will have no trouble as an advocate for Mr. Clinton.

"He's a Southern governor. He has a good civil rights record -- particularly in employment of minorities," Mr. Henry said.

Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, said events like yesterday's were important for voters because "they get a sense of the person."

"You listen to the themes and decide if you connect with those themes," he said.

Mayor Schmoke addressed one of them yesterday in his introduction at Douglas Memorial Church.

In the summer of 1964, Mr. Schmoke went to visit relatives in Hope, Ark., a small town where, he learned later, Bill Clinton grew up.

"I have this vivid memory," the mayor said, "of standing in front of a movie theater in Hope with a line of black people on one side and a line of white young people on the other side. The whites got to sit on the first floor. The blacks all sat in the balcony.

"I wondered later if, irony of ironies, he might have been on one line and I was on the other. I wondered what he might have sensed from his side of the line," Mr. Schmoke said.

Based on discussions with Lonnie Shackleford, a former black mayor of Little Rock, and with others in Arkansas, Mr. Schmoke says he concluded, "He probably saw injustice he wanted to correct. He probably saw a part of America that he didn't think was right. But he also probably saw young people who, though the color of their skin was different, had the same hopes and aspirations that he did."

Mr. Clinton said he, too, had memories of the theater in Hope.

"It was wrong," he said of the lines. "I grew up in that segregated society. It had a big impact on me. It was one of things that drove me into politics.

"One day I went upstairs in the theater. I sat there for about an hour. I talked to people. They were friendly. They didn't know what I was doing there. They thought I was an oddity."

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