Schmoke's heart battles his head and triumphs

ROGER SIMON

September 22, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

It was late Sunday night by the time the mayor of Baltimore got a chance to speak privately with his wife.

There had been a family reunion at the Schmoke house, and relatives from Massachusetts to North Carolina had filled the place.

Schmoke was an affable host, but if he seemed slightly distracted he had a reason: He was close to ruling out a run for governor and he wanted his wife's advice before making the final decision.

The previous Thursday or Friday, he had sat down with Larry Gibson, his campaign chairman, and indicated that he was thinking of shooting down the trial balloon he had been floating since February.

Gibson was not surprised. If New York Gov. Mario Cuomo had become known as the Hamlet of the Hudson for his ping-ponging flirtation with a presidential race, Schmoke had become the Hamlet of the Harbor on the matter of a governor's race.

"Just let me know when you know," Gibson told Schmoke.

The exploration of whether Schmoke would run -- a journey that took him to every county in Maryland except Garrett (and there he sent Gibson) -- had been divided into three components: political, personal and policy.

Political was Gibson's bailiwick. Charged with determining whether Schmoke could win both the primary and general election, Gibson spent more than $60,000 on polls and focus groups, and had determined by June that both races were winnable.

The personal component had been nailed down in late July, when Schmoke's wife, Dr. Patricia Schmoke, had gone along with the idea of living in Annapolis as long as she could keep her Baltimore medical practice and their daughter could continue to attend her private school in Baltimore.

dTC The policy component should have been the easiest to satisfy for a policy "wonk" like Schmoke. But it proved to be the stopping point.

"The key question I had to answer was: 'Where are you going to take the state and what can you say about your record?' " Schmoke told me Monday. "In doing that, it started me evaluating my job as mayor. I felt good about the direction the city was going in, but we have gone through some tough times, and a lot of things need my support as mayor."

In other words, I said to Schmoke, you couldn't defend your record as mayor and that is why you are not running for governor?

"No," Schmoke said. "The city is moving in the right direction, and we've had some successes. But those successes require my continuing commitment."

Which is what he told his wife after the last relative left Sunday night. "It was a very long conversation," Schmoke said.

"I'll go to Annapolis, if you'll go," Patricia had already told him. "I want this if you want this."

But did he want this? From the beginning, the governor's chair was Schmoke's second choice for higher office: He really had wanted Paul Sarbanes' seat in the U.S. Senate.

And by giving up a race for governor in 1994, he would be giving up very little:

If Schmoke were re-elected mayor in 1995, his third term would end in 1999. There will be another governor's race at the end of 1998, and Barbara Mikulski's Senate seat also will be up that year. Paul Sarbanes' seat, should he win re-election next year, will be up in 2000.

And all these present plenty of opportunity for a mayor who will turn just 44 on Dec. 1.

Also, by not becoming governor next year, Schmoke avoids having to turn the city over to City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, a political enemy, who would automatically assume the empty mayoral chair.

"If Mayor Schmoke had been confident he was leaving the city in good hands, he might have run for governor," Larry Gibson told me. "He had a good enough record to win. Our polling and focus groups showed that. But he was concerned as to what kind of leadership he would be leaving the city."

So Schmoke decided not to run. In 1994, anyway.

"I do hope to represent the people statewide someday as either governor or senator," Schmoke said.

But was it a tough decision not to run for governor this time?

"It was very tough," Schmoke said. "As late as Sunday night in my talk with Patricia the decision could have gone either way. But in the end, it was a debate between the head and the heart. And the heart won."

And so for now, Schmoke's heart belongs to Baltimore.

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