Schmoke expects an ally in D.C. Mayor discounts prospect of post in Clinton Cabinet

November 02, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

When Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke flies to Little Rock, Ark., to join Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton on Election Day, it will be an acknowledgment of the central role Mr. Schmoke played in shaping the candidate's urban policy.

For Mr. Schmoke, the effort began in earnest late last year, when candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination began courting his endorsement. Mr. Schmoke asked all his suitors the same question: What is your plan for cities?

Mr. Schmoke said the Arkansas governor offered the best answer to his question. As a result, he won the mayor's endorsement. But that was only the beginning of Mr. Schmoke's involvement with the Clinton campaign.

Mr. Schmoke went on to speak to the Democratic platform writing committee in New Mexico. In July, he gave a nationally televised speech on the plight of cities to the Democratic National Convention. Mr. Schmoke has consulted on the telephone with Mr. Clinton numerous times, and Mr. Schmoke's campaign chairman, Larry Gibson, is chairman of Mr. Clinton's Maryland campaign.

Those connections, coupled with the invitation Mr. Schmoke received to be in Little Rock Tuesday, has sparked widespread speculation that the mayor will be chosen to be a member of Mr. zTC Clinton's Cabinet if the Democrat is elected.

But Mr. Schmoke was one of many Clinton supporters to be invited to Arkansas, and he played down talk of a Cabinet post. "I know the Clinton folks already are doing long-range planning, and I haven't heard from anyone," Mr. Schmoke said. "I think if I were being considered, I would have heard something."

The mayor speculated that his outspoken stance in favor of drug decriminalization would cause Mr. Clinton to shy away from naming him to his administration.

"To the extent that anybody knows my name outside the city, it is association with the drug issue," he said. "And a new administration would not want to deal with that issue."

Mr. Schmoke said he would prefer being an informal adviser to the president. "My goal is to get a friend in Washington, not be in Washington," Mr. Schmoke said. "I've made it very clear to people that I'm not interested" in a Cabinet post.

What interests Mr. Schmoke, he said, is having the ability to influence federal policy from afar. And if Mr. Clinton is elected, Mr. Schmoke will be in a strong position to do just that.

Mr. Schmoke was among 10 to 15 Democratic elected officials and policy officials selected to address the group writing the Democratic platform, said Jon Spalter, the Clinton campaign spokesman in Maryland.

"Cities are not the hole in the doughnut whose existence doesn't matter; cities are the cog in the center of the wheel," Mr. Schmoke told the group.

It is an idea endorsed by Mr. Clinton. In his own position papers, Mr. Clinton says "Prosperous cities are the key to vital regional economies and safe and healthy suburbs."

Mr. Clinton has laid out a number of proposals for cities, some of which were suggested by Mr. Schmoke. Among them:

* Targeting Community Development Block Grants to build urban roads, bridges, and water and sewage treatment plants ** and urban housing stock. Mr. Clinton has proposed that companies who win bids on these construction jobs set up a portion of their operations in low-income neighborhoods and hire local residents.

* Creating a network of community development banks, much as Mr. Schmoke has in Baltimore. The banks would provide small loans to low-income business people and inner city homeowners.

* Creating enterprise zones that would offer a package of incentives and tax breaks for businesses willing to locate in depressed areas.

* Strengthening requirements for banks to reinvest in their communities, in an effort to get banks to make more loans in poor communities.

* Giving cities more flexibility over how they use federal aid.

"A lot of what is in the platform are things that I support," Mr. Schmoke said. "A few of them are my recommendations . . . but I'm sure other people made similar recommendations."

One issue on which Mr. Clinton and Mr. Schmoke don't agree is drug decriminalization. Mr. Schmoke has advocated taking drug enforcement out of the control of police and developing a public health strategy to combat drugs.

But Mr. Clinton flatly opposes decriminalization. Despite that, Mr. Schmoke is heartened by Mr. Clinton's stated goal of having the federal government provide funds to make drug treatment on demand closer to a reality.

"He has said that 70 percent of the money spent on the drug war should go to education and treatment and 30 percent to law enforcement," Mr. Schmoke said. "We are doing the opposite right now."

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