Did the numbers add up to 'no' for Schmoke?

MICHAEL OLESKER

September 28, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

This goes back maybe a month now, to a time when Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg was asking for money for a race for governor, only to hear much creative use of the word "No," while Kurt L. Schmoke was simultaneously asking for $500 a person for a fund-raiser and everybody near him couldn't wait to sign up.

"Steinberg wants money," a certain conspicuous big-money man was saying that afternoon a month ago. "He just this minute asked if I was gonna support him."

"What did you tell him?"

"What did I tell him?" the big-money man said. "What could I tell him? I told him, 'Mickey, you know I like you, right? You know I'd like you to be governor, right? But what's the worst thing that happens to Kurt Schmoke if you beat him? He's gonna be the mayor. I still have to deal with him as my mayor. Which means, one way or the other, I gotta support him.'"

Thus, you had maybe 800 people gathered at the Omni Hotel last night, for cheese balls and such at $500 a throw, to support what turned out to be the gubernatorial un-candidacy of Kurt Schmoke. A week ago, long after most of these $500 tickets had been sold with the general belief he would run for governor, the mayor threw everyone (including himself) a curve and said he wanted to keep being mayor.

Unfinished city business, he declared. No one disagreed. The city's troubles would be tough to explain, he didn't exactly declare, because it wasn't the time for it. But no one would have disagreed.

Instead, what everyone expressed was incredulity: The polls, they said, what about those early polls showing the mayor far in front of everybody else who wished to run for governor?

"By our analysis, yes, he would have won," Schmoke's chief political strategist, Larry Gibson, said last night. "The possibility of losing had nothing to do with his decision."

Others sound a different note. Some political professionals examined their own sets of numbers and saw Schmoke finishing no better than third, behind Steinberg and Prince George's County's Parris Glendening in a Democratic primary.

Seven years ago, when William Donald Schaefer ran for governor, there was an undercurrent based on Schaefer's perceived urban miracle in Baltimore: Elect him and he'd do for the state what he did for the city.

Today, those same words have a haunting effect, which Schmoke's camp knew could be used against him. Whatever honest efforts Schmoke has made, however earnest his intentions, the city is now widely perceived through a narrow prism: its dreadful crime rate, increasingly spilling into suburbia, for which anyone in charge automatically takes the blame; and the endless funds it needs to fight various social problems, money which state legislators therefore cannot spread elsewhere.

Thus, some who examine numbers professionally weren't moved those early polls. They saw a Schmoke gubernatorial bid running overwhelmingly big in the city and sputtering thereafter. Glendening figured to take lots of Prince George's County. In Montgomery County, where Schmoke was treated rudely in a recent meeting, they're furious over perceived special treatment Annapolis has given to Baltimore and dread the thought of another governor out of this city, even if he isn't named Schaefer.

The Baltimore suburbs figured to go stronger for Mickey Steinberg than for Schmoke. In fact, some think Steinberg was helped less by Schmoke's dropout than by Attorney General Joseph Curran's a week earlier. Much of the northeast Baltimore suburbs, for example, once expected to be Curran's, would likely switch to Steinberg sooner than to Schmoke.

All of this now adds up to about 75 percent of the state electorate. Figure Schmoke and Steinberg running pretty close up to here. But some say the rest of the state -- much of it relatively rural, oblivious to Baltimore -- doesn't figure in Schmoke's column at all.

In any event, those people spending $500 last night, who once thought they were backing a candidate for governor, now have to bide their time. Last night wasn't about Kurt Schmoke as prospective governor, or as mayor or future senator. It was simply about continuing the phenomenon of a Wunderkind.

Also, not to be minimized, it was about those like Mickey Steinberg now approaching people with money, who no longer have to find creative ways to tell him no.

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