Red Carpet Rolled Out For Vips

August 25, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Howard Libit | JoAnna Daemmrich and Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writers

Few in Baltimore have ever gotten so privileged a glimpse of City Hall as the elite group of heavy hitters who lunched with the mayor yesterday.

The six arrived early in a chauffeured limousine. The City Council president interrupted a meeting to recognize them. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ushered them into his inner sanctum and devoted hours of his undivided attention to talking about issues of the day.

Yet none in the group is a close friend of the mayor. In fact, none ever voted for him. They can't for at least another eight years.

Mr. Schmoke made room in his busy schedule for one reason -- to give the fourth- and fifth-graders from Robert W. Coleman Elementary School a firsthand civics lesson. For more than four hours, the children trailed the mayor from marble corridors to a gilded ceremonial room, from a dry meeting on city contracts to an introduction to Miss Maryland American Princess, complete with sash and tiara.

Along the way, the schoolchildren asked blunt questions about everything from open-air drug markets to the mayor's bowling game.

They had a chance to bang the gavel at the weekly Board of Estimates meeting, shake hands with a top local union leader and play with a football the mayor keeps in his office. They also talked frankly with Mr. Schmoke about whether women should be firefighters, whether Council President Mary Pat Clarke would beat him in next year's election and whether he ever got tired of his job.

"What prepared you to be mayor?" 10-year-old Ava Watson asked at one point.

Mr. Schmoke grinned. "Quite honestly, Ava, nothing prepared me to be mayor," he said. But he went on to list his credentials, graduating from Yale and then Harvard Law School, working for former President Jimmy Carter and becoming Baltimore's state's attorney. As a prosecutor, he said, "I saw a lot of problems that you hear about -- crime, hunger, lack of education and families breaking up." And he had dreamed of becoming the mayor since middle school, Mr. Schmoke said.

He handed out bookmarks, posed for individual pictures with the six children and gave them some advice. "Whatever it is you want in life, whatever career you want, it is going to require the ability to read, and read well."

Lorren Seward, 10, wanted to know if the mayor had always been studious. Mr. Schmoke surprised the group by confessing that he "talked a lot in elementary school and had to be corrected from time to time." He urged them to concentrate on their school work and to think of career goals early in life.

Their day at City Hall began at the usually monotonous meeting of the Board of Estimates, the five-member panel that must approve all city contracts. Ava, Lorren, Shantell Garrett, 10, Donald Williams, 9, Keith Scott, 8, and Juan Solera, 9, got a front-row view of the wrangling over a proposed staff reorganization of the city Fire Department.

Afterward, Mrs. Clarke invited them all to take a seat behind the microphones. As Donald played the mayor and Shantell sat in her chair, Mrs. Clarke pretended to be a food service contractor bidding to provide school lunches.

"This feels great," Donald said as he picked up the microphone.

During a "working brown bag lunch" with the mayor, the children -- all of whom are in the school's gifted and talented program and studying government -- demonstrated their political awareness.

"What will you do next?" Shantell asked, between bites of her turkey and cheese sandwich.

"I want to win the election for next year," Mr. Schmoke replied.

"Isn't Mary Pat Clarke running against you?" Shantell asked. Before the mayor had a chance to respond, Donald jumped in and, holding up his crossed fingers, said, "Mary Pat and us are like this."

After posing for a group photo in which someone held up two fingers behind the mayor's head, the children huddled together and said farewell to Mr. Schmoke in a way few people do -- with a big hug.

The group left City Hall with a new understanding of city government.

"It's a hard job," Keith said. But the day's activities set at least one of the students considering a new career path. "Maybe I'll be a mayor or a governor," Shantell said.

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