Montgomery seeks respect and Schmoke seeks votes

ROGER SIMON

August 06, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

POTOMAC -- It was the kind of large house that many people in Baltimore would call a mansion and many people in Potomac would call a large house.

It sat on a fair amount of acreage and was bordered by the type of fence used to keep horses in rather than burglars out.

In the living room, the power elite had gathered: state senators and delegates, members of the Montgomery County Council, civic and political activists, and executives from Pepsico Inc. and Giant Food.

"In the past 10 or 20 years, I have not seen so many members of the Democratic leadership in one place," said John X. Ward, president of the Bethesda Democratic Breakfast Club. "These are people who can put together money and people who can assemble workers."

In other words, these are the people Kurt Schmoke wants to meet.

Schmoke's perambulation around the state, which began more as an exploration into his own soul -- Should I run for governor? Would it be good for humanity? -- now seems to have reached the more conventional stage of seeking support.

One big turning point came a few weeks ago, when Schmoke satisfied members of his family that a move to Annapolis would not disrupt their Baltimore-oriented lives.

His wife, Patricia, would continue her city medical practice, and his daughter, Kathy, would continue at her private Baltimore school. (His son, Gregory, a musician who has adopted the stage name Raven Black, is 22 and no longer lives at home.)

"My family is behind it if I do it," Schmoke told the Potomac audience a few nights ago.

But in order to do it, Schmoke must go where Baltimore mayors rarely go and persuade people that he can be more than a Baltimore mayor.

One important stop on this road show is Montgomery County, which not only has money and a history of liberalism, but also produces the largest number of general election votes in the state.

It lacks only one thing, in fact: respect.

"Montgomery County is seen by many as a jurisdiction that has no legitimate needs," Del. Kumar P. Barve, D-Gaithersburg, told Schmoke. "But schools and roads are to Montgomery County what baseball stadiums and convention centers are to Baltimore City."

Last year, Schmoke backed a legislative deal that hurt Montgomery County when it came to financing education, and many in the room had neither forgotten nor forgiven.

"Why are so many people dismissive of us?" Barve asked.

Actually, he knows the answer:

America is in a soak-the-rich mood. Baltimore City is going to continue as the soaker, and Montgomery County is going to continue as the soakee -- probably no matter who is governor.

Which is not exactly how Schmoke put it.

"This county is so important to the state," he said. "It is vital to the state, and we must do everything we can to support it."

Schmoke did not say which counties in the state are unimportant and unvital (and I suspect if you asked him, the answer would be none), but it was enough for some in the crowd.

"I think he did very well," Del. Gene W. Counihan, chairman of the Montgomery delegation, said when Schmoke was finished with the three-hour meeting. "He wears his mantle of power with grace and dignity. I haven't committed to anybody, but this is a man who can win."

And, indeed, Schmoke no longer talks like a man racked by self-doubt as to whether he will run or win.

When I asked him about being mayor vs. being governor, he said: "I had to make decisions as mayor of Baltimore. As governor, I'll have to make other decisions."

As governor? So you've decided to run?

"By the first week of October I should be ready to say whether I intend to run," Schmoke said, "though the formal announcement would not come until some months after that."

It would not be a problem-free decision. If Schmoke runs and wins, he would have to turn over the mayor's chair to his political enemy, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

But Schmoke, 43, now has been mayor for nearly six years, which is longer than he has held any other job.

And he seems to be a firm believer in one old political rule:

It is always harder to hit a moving target.

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