Clarke and Schmoke: changes in the rift She may want to be mayor, but he wants her to ease up

February 07, 1993|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

When frustrated tenants at the Lexington Terrace public housing complex invited City Council President Mary Pat Clarke to spend the night, she was quick to agree.

But when Ms. Clarke showed up for her overnight stay, she found herself upstaged by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Hours before the council president's arrival, Mr. Schmoke met with residents of the crumbling housing project, apologized for the horrible living conditions and promised immediate improvements.

The mayor's surprise visit took the edge off Ms. Clarke's overnight stay, marking yet another skirmish in the still-unfolding political battle between Baltimore's top two elected officials.

Whether the issue is Norplant, school rezoning, city fees for street festivals or public housing, Baltimore's mayor and council president have found themselves increasingly at odds in recent months.

Ms. Clarke says she is just doing her job, while others say she is intent on embarrassing Mr. Schmoke.

"I think they both want to be the mayor," observes state Sen. John A.Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, head of the city's delegation to the state Senate.

Apparently, Mr. Schmoke shares that sentiment. Since his 1991 re-election campaign, Mr. Schmoke has kept Ms. Clarke at arm's length. But receiving the cold shoulder from the Schmoke camp apparently disappointed and angered Ms. Clarke, who was a strong supporter of Mr. Schmoke's first mayoral campaign in 1987.

The rift became apparent when Ms. Clarke's political club did not endorse Mr. Schmoke during the 1991 Democratic primary. And Mr. Schmoke refused to take Ms. Clarke on his ticket in the general election. The mayor and his advisers would not campaign with Ms. Clarke because they felt that she had quietly campaigned for former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns during the primary.

Since beginning his second term, Mr. Schmoke has mostly chosen not to enlist Ms. Clarke's support for his major initiatives.

Ms. Clarke, meanwhile, has missed few opportunities to serve as the voice of people who are angry with the mayor. The examples are numerous:

When some ministers and community groups raised questions about the city's privatization of nine schools, Ms. Clarke took up the cause. Through it all, she has insisted -- over Mr. Schmoke's repeated objections -- that those schools are being given more ++ money than are other public schools.

When Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, lambasted Mr. Schmoke and his police commissioner, Edward V. Woods, for not doing enough to combat Baltimore's homicide rate, Ms. Clarke stood at the councilman's side.

Ms. Clarke was among the council members who helped shoot down the mayor's plan to increase the local income tax rate to hire more police officers and firefighters.

"We were not convinced that the money would find its way to the street and that it would appreciably improve public safety," she said.

Last week when several black members of the council raised objections to a Schmoke administration plan to offer the contraceptive Norplant to sexually active teen-agers, it was left to Ms. Clarke to explain their outrage.

She said their concern was, "What is this really about? First of all, for our children, and, secondly, for our population and race?"

All of this has spawned a tense and wary relationship between the mayor and council president.

"The mayor and his staff seem to be constantly looking over their shoulders at Mary Pat," says George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore NAACP. "That keeps them from working closely with the woman and keeps a certain sense of paranoia going on."

Mr. Schmoke attributes the series of disagreements with Ms. Clarke to the inherent tension between any mayor and council president.

"I think that as long as there has been a council president and mayor, there have been some areas of disagreement between the two," Mr. Schmoke says.

But others say the political rivalry between Mr. Schmoke and Ms. Clarke is more than that.

"She's running for mayor," says a city legislator who asked not to be identified. "She makes every issue her issue. She can't help but be popular."

Underscoring the rivalry is the sharp contrast in style between the two. Mr. Schmoke is deliberative, cautious and not given to quick reaction on issues. He also prefers to operate with a minimum of fanfare, to the point where he often leaves the impression that he has not acted on an issue even when he has.

Ms. Clarke, meanwhile, is more impulsive, grass-roots oriented and, some say, more apt to play to the crowd.

"We're two totally different kinds of people," Ms. Clarke says. "I've been at this for a long, long, time. I have a sense of things intuitively. It's good to have someone who is deductive in thinking through a problem. I tend to see what I want to achieve and figure out things as I go along."

Those differences sometimes make it appear that Ms. Clarke, rather than Mr. Schmoke, is the one taking the lead on many issues in the city. And some people say that makes Mr. Schmoke's supporters nervous.

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