A review of some legendary mayors

Baltimore Glimpses

April 11, 1995|By Gilbert Sandler

THIS YEAR'S Baltimore mayoralty campaign promises to be interesting with Mayor Kurt Schmoke challenged by City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. With that in mind, Glimpses feels compelled to recall some of Baltimore's former mayors. We conclude: They were men of strong character, rugged individuals, all.

* Of Mayor Thomas Gordon Hayes, H.L. Mencken wrote in 1939: "He was the first reform mayor of Baltimore. When Mayor [Howard] Jackson does something, he's only rewriting Hayes. Hayes (1899-1903) fell down his back stairs once and broke his leg. But, of course, we never said that. We said, with Hayes's approval, that he had vertigo. In those days we never told the truth."

* Howard W. Jackson (1923 to 1927 and 1931-1943) spent much of his time arguing with political boss William "Willie" Curran on one flank and, on the other, political gadfly Marie Baurenschmidt who seemed to enjoying haranguing all of Baltimore's mayors of her time, including Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., Jackson's successor. Baurenschmidt, a proselytizing teetotaler (but wife of beer baron!), told Jackson in no uncertain terms that he drank too much. She threatened that if he ran for a second term she would go public with the accusation on her WBAL radio show to expose what she called "his bad drinking habit." Jackson told her to go right ahead. She did. Jackson ran and won.

* Thomas "Tommy" D'Alesandro Jr. beat the Curran machine to become mayor from 1947 to 1959. He wore his "lucky" polka-dot clip-on tie through 22 consecutive elections and won every one of them. But late in the evening of the 23rd election (for the Senate against U.S. Sen. J. Glenn Beall, a Republican) he predicted he'd lose by 30,000 votes. When the returns were counted he had, in fact, lost by just about that. In conceding, he proclaimed proudly, "I hit it!" Twenty years after Baurenschmidt died, Tommy was asked to talk about her. "She dead, isn't she?" he asked rhetorically. "May she rest in peace."

His son Tommy D'Alesandro III or "Young Tommy" (1967-1971) unfortunately was mayor during the 1968 riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He did not run for a second term.

But a mayor with an even shorter term was Philip H. Goodman (1962-1963) who completed the term of Mayor J. Harold Grady (1959-1962) who left office after accepting a judicial appointment. Downtown redevelopment began during Grady's term with the construction of Charles Center.

When Goodman ran for a full term he lost to Theodore R. McKeldin (a Republican!) who charmed the electorate with the sweetness of his oratory and the grandiloquence of his rhetoric.

McKeldin (1943-1947 and 1963-1967) nominated Dwight D. Eisenhower for president with one of the Republican Party's most memorable nomination speeches: "I give you a man who is first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."

McKeldin often expressed concern about his place in history. He told friends, "I won't be among Baltimore's most remembered mayors," he said. James H. Preston would be, he insisted. Asked why, he said, "He had those beautiful gardens on St. Paul Place named after him. People always say, 'Did you see those lovely flowers in bloom in Preston Gardens?' Preston Gardens! Sheer genius!"

William Donald Schaefer has had many things named after him -- buildings, libraries, and (according to some) the Baltimore Renaissance itself. He kept city hall charged up with a kind of nervous quirkiness throughout his long tenure as mayor (1971-1986). But he will be remembered for promising to jump into a tank at the aquarium if the building wasn't finished on time -- and for making good on his threat. He donned his bathing suit and jumped in. But he was called in his time "America's greatest mayor" by a national publication.

But Mr. Schaefer lacked one of Mayor Hayes' skills. "Hayes chewed tobacco in bed," Mencken wrote, "and spat in all directions. Including straight up."

When it comes to rugged individualism, we conclude, some mayors were more rugged than others.

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