Mayor tests suburbs in Colonial Village

THE POLITICAL GAME

April 28, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

West of Reisterstown Road, just over the city-county line, stands Colonial Village, a proud repository of civic spirit but a neighborhood under siege.

Stores are robbed and robbed again. Teen-agers block streets and doughnut shop parking lots and dare someone to disperse them. Rats have appeared in at least one vacant lot.

Last year, the politicians put Colonial Village's 300 homes in a new city-county legislative district. Since 75 percent of the district is in the city, elections in this county neighborhood will be controlled by city voters. The community has challenged the new map in court.

An intriguing spot, then, for Kurt L. Schmoke, mayor of Baltimore and potential candidate for governor in 1994, to get a reading on his ratings in the suburbs.

"It's time for us to start thinking of ourselves as a common community," he told about 30 residents sitting in kiddie chairs, knees up to their chins, at the neighborhood school library.

"No one has told [the criminals] they have to stop at the city line," he says. His quip gets a bit of laughter, encouraging in the context.

In the city, he has been trying to get more police on the streets. He has pushed cleanup efforts, having detected a relationship between "crime and grime."

He volunteers that issues confronting the city and county are likely to be discussed in the campaign.

Someone brings up his call for a debate on the decriminalization of drug abuse. At the mention of his name, he says, "People say, 'Oh, yes, the young man who had a bright future.' " A few smiles.

He is not talking about legalization. Perhaps he should have called it "medicalization," he says ruefully. A little more laughter. He wants to "treat people like patients not like criminals to be incarcerated."

He says he pushed for legislation that would have permitted a needle-exchange program in Baltimore. He hoped the program might help Baltimore reduce the spread of AIDS -- as a similar program did in New Haven, Conn. But the bill failed.

He knows acutely well that his views on drugs are regarded as a major soft spot should he run for governor in 1994. "From what I hear," he says after his talk, "the Republicans think I'm their ticket to the State House." The thinking: He cannot win a general election because voters in the suburbs will reject a big city mayor who wants to treat addicts instead of jailing them. But in Colonial Village last week, people seemed glad to hear someone speaking earnestly of the developing partnership between the city's Police Department and the county's. They seemed untroubled by a political leader asking them to think.

Mr. Schmoke says his thoughts on decriminalization have been greeted with reactions ranging from indifference to hostility. People are frightened and frustrated, he says.

They are likely to press candidates in 1994 for solutions: If not decriminalization, medicalization or more incarceration, then what?

He asks whether anyone thinks the war on drugs has been won. Does anyone think victory is imminent? Or that it will come in the next decade?

No one answered yes.

The first test of 1994 has come and Rep. Helen Delich Bentley has taken a pass.

In its pursuit of a winning ticket for 1994, the Maryland Republican Party wants to know which of its potential candidates for governor plan to run. It particularly wants to know what Mrs. Bentley will do.

If she runs for governor, the party would get behind her. But many think she will run again for her 2nd District congressional seat.

The straw poll of GOP committee members and elected officials was devised as way to force her hand. "We're No. 2," says Joyce L. Terhes, the party's state chairwoman, explaining the urgency. "It takes longer to raise the money and do everything we have to do."

The ballot goes to GOP Central Committee members and elected officials. They are asked to say who should lead their 1994 ticket as a candidate for governor. Mrs. Terhes says Mrs. Bentley has indicated she does not want to be included in that contest. Some in the party say the congresswoman is irritated by the pressure to get in a race so early -- and risk a poor showing.

Some thinning of the field did occur. Bill Brock, the former senator from Tennessee, who toyed with running for governor here, has told Ms. Terhes that he will not run.

In the poll for governor so far are state Sen. Jack Cade of Anne Arundel County, Del. Ellen Sauerbrey of Baltimore County, Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall and Bill Shepard, the party's 1990 candidate.

Mr. Cade is showing the sort of leadership the party covets: He's in the poll for governor, comptroller and U.S. senator.

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