Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke are passing out bumper stickers that seem to indicate how each plans to vie for votes.
Apparently not wanting to miss potential voters, Mrs. Clarke's orange bumper stickers have her name at the top and the word "mayor" at the bottom written in Greek, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hebrew or English.
Mr. Schmoke's bumper stickers, which he says are designed to appeal to all voters, have "Mayor Schmoke Makes Us Proud" in white lettering on strips of red, black and green.
Red, black and green are known as "liberation colors" and have been associated with people of African descent since 1920 when black leader Marcus Garvey unfurled a flag with those hues at the first International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World.
JoAnn Martin, executive director of the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, said the colors became very popular during the civil rights era. She said red represents the blood African-Americans shed for freedom, green is for their African homeland and black is for their skin color.
But Schmoke campaign manager Larry Gibson said the colors (( are not for liberation but for Baltimore. He said the black and white are for the city's diversity, red represents the city's past struggles, and green represents promise and growth in its present and the future.
Mr. Schmoke said Tuesday that the bumper stickers aren't specifically aimed at black voters. "People who have seen me campaign know I campaign throughout the entire city and we're going to continue to do that," he said.
The mayor also said his choice of colors didn't mean that he was concerned about his support among black voters. He said his Christmas cards and the billboards thanking President Clinton for making Baltimore an empowerment zone city also were red, black and green.
Mr. Gibson said the mayor wouldn't emphasize being black to win black votes. But Mr. Gibson suggested that racial politics led Mrs. Clarke to have her late father's recent burial handled by an African-American funeral home.
March Funeral Home arranged the burial of James Murray Hines, who died last month at age 83.
Mrs. Clarke said yesterday that she chose the March mortuary because she and its owner, William March, live in the same parish. She said Mr. Gibson "should be ashamed" for suggesting she used March for political reasons.
Asked if she thought Mr. Schmoke's bumper stickers were only aimed at African-Americans, she said, "I think he has to run his campaign as he sees fit. It's a diverse city. I think it's beautiful that Baltimore has all kinds of people in it."
Richard Ingrao, past president of the Little Italy Community Association, said that most blacks know what red, black and green stand for and that could cause unnecessary divisions during the election.
"It would cause them to say this is our candidate, the African-American candidate, and that draws lines the city doesn't need." Mr. Ingrao said.
City Council Vice President Vera P. Hall disagreed, saying Mr. Schmoke has tried to be very inclusive during his two terms and that should count for something. "I don't think one bumper sticker is enough to offset all of that," she said.
David Bositis, senior analyst for the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington, said the choice of colors for a bumper sticker or other political symbols shouldn't be considered divisive unless someone views them negatively.
"Using the Confederate flag is offensive to a lot of African-Americans because of what it represents negatively for them. On the other hand, using the colors of the Irish flag doesn't represent any challenge, insult or diminishment to any Americans," he said.
Both Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke say they want to be judged by voters on their records.
"I have been here a long time working hard in all the neighborhoods," she said. "I hope people judge me on the basis of my work."
Mr. Schmoke said: "I'm not assuming I'm entitled to anybody's vote. I am assuming I can earn that vote and that I have a record of accomplishment and a vision for the future that will allow me to earn that vote from anybody."
But he said he would be naive to think race would play no role.
"It is a fact in campaigns involving African-American and white candidates that race is, I believe, always going to be an issue. It doesn't necessarily have to be the issue," he said. "My sense is that all of us will do all we can to make sure one issue doesn't dominate this campaign."