The Next Election

November 14, 1994

At dawn on the day after last Tuesday's election, another band of campaigners could be seen in downtown Baltimore. Successive signs spelled out this message: "Next election: Mary Pat Clarke -- Mayor -- 1995."

The City Council president's mayoral ambitions are well known. In mid-October 1993, when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was toying with running for governor, Ms. Clarke declared she was a candidate for the city's top office -- even if Mr. Schmoke eventually decided to seek a third term. She went into a campaign mode. Now she and the mayor can barely conceal their mutual distrust and hostility.

In the past, Ms. Clarke, who backed Mr. Schmoke for mayor in 1987, had talked about opposing him. If she stays in the race this time, Baltimore could be in for a fascinating contest between the city's first elected African-American mayor and a challenger who wants to be its first woman chief executive. Many voters could find themselves in a ticklish situation, with conflicting loyalties.

By conventional criteria, Mr. Schmoke should be a shoo-in. He has amassed a formidable campaign war chest and enjoys the advantages of incumbency. Ms. Clark, by contrast, has little money but has built an effective grass-roots organization.

As last week's elections proved, these are not ordinary times. For decades, Baltimore has been losing its middle-class, residential and commercial tax bases -- and jobs. The Inner Harbor may glitter, but many citizens are unhappy.

Baltimore is so overwhelmingly Democratic it is difficult to see a credible GOP mayoral nominee in next year's election -- unless former mayor and retiring Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer decides to change parties or run as an independent. On election day last week, the governor noted elliptically that he's considering another campaign. But will it be for mayor?

Even a Schmoke-Clarke race, without a Schaefer entry, would give voters a clear choice.

Ms. Clarke is a sharp critic of the mayor's policies, particularly his experimentation with school privatization. Mr. Schmoke, for his part, is plagued by problems that have been with his administration from the beginning. His staff work is sloppy and high-handed; communication snafus are common. His public relations machine is so inept good news gets drowned in grumblings.

The main danger to Mr. Schmoke, though, is the feeling of malaise in the city. When William Donald Schaefer was mayor, the mood was so upbeat that a critic labeled him the "Messiah mayor with the gospel of hype." Things might have been getting worse, but at least people felt optimistic. Under Mr. Schmoke, that sense of a better tomorrow has diminished. Will the mood of Baltimore voters be any more upbeat next year at this time?

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