Kurt L. Schmoke's moment of glory will come tomorrow night when he introduces former President Jimmy Carter to the Democratic National Convention. To the political junkies in Maryland and beyond, the message is clear: the Baltimore mayor is a man to watch.
The election campaign may further heighten the profile of Mr. Schmoke. As one of the few black elected officials joining the Bill Clinton bandwagon early on, he campaigned for the Democratic nominee not only in Maryland but in such pivotal states as New York and Pennsylvania.
The Clinton campaign, in return, sought Mr. Schmoke's input on national urban policy as well as on the vice-presidential choice. And Mr. Schmoke was the only big-city mayor appointed to the 15-member Democratic Platform Drafting Committee.
Hillary Clinton, the Arkansas governor's wife, and Mr. Schmoke knew one another during their student days at Yale. Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Schmoke were Rhodes scholars. These are the kinds of common ties that are part of the necessary networking in political campaigns. Initially, however, the Baltimore mayor became interested in Mr. Clinton for other reasons.
Early on in the political season, as politicians from Paul Tsongas and Bob Kerrey to Jerry Brown and Tom Harkins began testing the waters, Mr. Schmoke had to decide a fundamental question: "Are we going to play or wait it out?" To hear a Schmoke strategist talk about these things now, the mayor's inclination was to wait. "Quite honestly, he wasn't going to be active in this one until we realized standing on the sidelines is a joke," the aide recalled.
Once that bridge was crossed, the Schmoke camp asked the various candidates to explain their stands on urban problems and policies. The mayor and his advisers quickly came to the conclusion that Mr. Clinton "clearly was the only one who had even thought about these things."
Mr. Schmoke, in turn, offered the Clinton campaign an important asset: a thoughtful and popular African American mayor in a suddenly important early primary state. Besides, he could be paraded as a reminder that the black political spectrum was not limited to Jesse Jackson and his loyalists.
Mr. Schmoke's role in the final stretch of the campaign is unclear. He travels well and may be useful for nationwide pinch-hitting. But the more the presidential election turns into a three-way race, the more he may be needed to solidify Clinton support in Maryland.
This kind of loyalty often pays off. All the work could also come in handy later on, if Mr. Schmoke chooses to seek a higher office that depends on statewide exposure.