When it's time for mayors, Clinton can't find the time

ROGER SIMON

January 20, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

He made time for the governors. He made time for the ambassadors. He made time for two former members of Los Angeles street gangs.

He made time for Michael Jackson. He made time for Mister Rogers. He made time for partygoers at four -- count 'em, four -- political fund-raisers.

But when it came time for the nation's mayors, Bill Clinton had no time. When it came time to come to Baltimore, Bill Clinton was too busy.

Yes, he came to Baltimore last year. But that's when he needed votes.

Now that he has the presidency locked up for four years, Clinton can stiff whomever he wants. And he started by stiffing everyone involved with Kurt Schmoke's pre-inauguration gala Monday night.

No time, Clinton's people said. He's got four $1,500-a-plate fund-raisers to go to that night.

In reality, however, the first one didn't start until 8 p.m. and Schmoke's party for the mayors started at 7 p.m. and the Democrats are quite capable of affording helicopters these days.

Well, the word then came down, it's really the Secret Service. They don't want Clinton to leave Washington.

Oh, puh-leeze. The Secret Service had no trouble with Clinton traveling through Virginia on Sunday, and I don't think Maryland on Monday would have been any more dangerous.

Besides, what's so safe about Washington? That's where Ronald Reagan got shot.

No, it was not the danger and not the time. Clinton just doesn't rank mayors high on his must-see list.

By Washington standards, which are now Bill Clinton's standards, your power relates to how exclusive your club is. There is only one president. There are only nine Supreme Court justices. There are only 50 governors. Only 100 Senators and 435 Representatives.

But there are 1,050 mayors in America in cities that have more than 30,000 in population. (Under that, not even the National Conference of Mayors keeps track of the number.)

Most never appear on national TV, the other standard by which worth is measured in Washington, and so they are invisible.

To Clinton, mayors are like Haitians: perfectly nice as a concept, but not the kind of people you want to rub elbows with.

So instead of coming to Baltimore in the flesh, Bill Clinton sent a videotape. Not even a live hookup! Not even a phone call! (It's a toll call from Washington, remember.)

Montel Williams, a talk show host and one of the events emcees, was the only person with the guts to publicly take Bill Clinton to task.

"I chose to come to you live and not on Memorex to show you my commitment to the cities," Williams told the crowd. "And we can hope, four years from now, the president will come to us live."

Funny thing, though, when Bill Clinton needed Kurt Schmoke, Schmoke was there for him.

Clinton badly needed to win the New York primary and he badly needed African-American support. And so he asked Schmoke to come up to New York and campaign for him.

Which Schmoke did. But Monday night, Clinton couldn't travel from Washington to Baltimore to make Kurt Schmoke look good.

So many parties and so little time, dontcha know.

And besides, Baltimore is so much more dangerous than Washington.

But you know what? It was Clinton's loss. He missed a chance to show symbolic support for the cities, and he missed a good time to boot.

Because if one of the purposes of the evening was to show off Baltimore as a nice place to come to for a party, it was a big success. In terms of glitz, food, and the ability to get your coat when the whole thing was over, the party not only measured up to but surpassed any Washington bash I have ever attended.

Schmoke told me he was not the least bit miffed that Clinton had not shown up. He also said that he was sure Clinton understood the power of the cities and would show his gratitude in other ways.

"He is aware of the votes he got from the cities of America," Schmoke said. "And, hey, you dance with the one you brung ya."

If you bother coming to the dance, that is.

So just label this as unsolicited advice, Mr. President-Elect:

Next time, don't show a tape. Show up.

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