With Clarke as opponent, Schmoke aims to get tough

March 14, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

While Kurt Schmoke has said he will be "far more aggressive" in his campaign for a third term as mayor, it is hard to visualize a Kurt Schmoke on the attack.

In his last two campaigns, not only was attack not necessary, but his polling data showed him it would have been a mistake.

The core of Schmoke's support is black voters, especially those 55 and older. But that group included his chief opponent, Du Burns.

"We could not beat up on this older black man," Larry Gibson, Schmoke's campaign chairman, said. "We could not show disrespect. That would have been fatal."

This time, however, Schmoke faces a different situation. His sole opponent (at least so far) is City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who must attack him vigorously if she expects to win.

And so, Gibson said, Schmoke "will follow different rules" in dealing with her and can be expected to attack back. And Gibson provided an example of what we can expect:

"Mary Pat Clarke consistently tries to take credit for the work of others," Gibson said. "A week or so ago, she mailed out to a large number of voters a list of phone numbers to city programs with an emphasis on the aging.

"But most of the numbers were for programs started by Mayor Schmoke or expanded by Mayor Schmoke. Her design was to give the impression that she played a major role and that was not the case.

"In the past, we would have said: 'So what?' Now, we will respond. Mayor Schmoke's political committee will respond. We will send information to the same people, contrasting Mayor Schmoke's achievements with Mary Pat's."

OK, what else?

"In the past, Mary Pat Clarke has exploited persons in emergency circumstances for political benefit," Gibson said. "In the past we left it alone. That won't be the case now."

[I called Clarke Friday for her response and was told she was out of town for a family wedding but would respond at her earliest opportunity.]

"She also frequently tries to be on both sides of an issue," Gibson continued. "The police is an example. She says: 'I want more law enforcement.' But she opposes measures that would result in that."

Gibson said Schmoke tried to get an increase in the city's piggyback tax to fund more cops, but Clarke opposed it.

"If police protection is the issue in this campaign," Gibson said, "then it is a losing issue for Mary Pat Clarke."

Others see it differently. Bruce L. Bortz, a Sun op-ed page columnist, wrote Feb. 9: "Only if the [crime] statistics show improvement will Mr. Schmoke have a solid chance to occupy the mayor's office for a third term."

And the Sun's Barry Rascovar wrote Feb. 20: "By all odds, Mr. Schmoke should be a heavy favorite to win a third term next year. . . . But the crime crisis suddenly makes Mr. Schmoke vulnerable."

Not surprisingly, Gibson disagrees.

"Crime as the make-or-break issue in this campaign is not a given," he said. "In a poll about six months ago, we asked: 'Do you agree or disagree that Mayor Schmoke is doing as much as any mayor can be doing to combat crime.' And 73 percent agreed. Baltimoreans understand crime is a national problem, and they understand Mayor Schmoke's efforts.

"And Mayor Schmoke is running against someone who does not have a strong record on this issue. Mary Pat Clarke's anti-crime record is weaker, not stronger, than Schmoke's."

Gibson is a partisan, of course, but in his responses you can divine the shape the Schmoke campaign will take as it approaches the September 1995 primary election:

"If I had to pick one overall word, a single word for the reaction to Mayor Schmoke among a majority of Baltimoreans and particularly in the black community, the word would be pride," Gibson said. "This does not mean black voters are blind or will sheepishly support any and all black candidates. But they have a black mayor they are proud of and a city they are proud of.

"We are going to work awfully hard in the black community and in the white community, and we are going to do two things:

"One, we are going to set forth in clear terms the mayor's accomplishments. And, two, we are going to help people understand the differences between Kurt Schmoke and Mary Pat Clarke."

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