After weeks of sparring from afar while barely acknowledging each other in public, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke found they had a lot in common yesterday at a forum to support low-wage workers in Baltimore.
The mayoral rivals put aside their acrimonious exchanges for a while to embrace a platform by the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee, an association seeking better pay and job security for people who clean Baltimore's hotels, offices and schools.
At their first joint campaign appearance, Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke were equally quick to respond to demands for worker rights and a better method of resolving complaints of unfair labor practices against companies that do business with the city.
They avoided criticizing each other while giving brief, upbeat speeches, and they clasped hands during the closing prayer at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in West Baltimore.
"We did not differ to a great extent on these issues because both of us share a certain pride in SSC and on these issues," Mr. Schmoke told the more than 150 cheering workers.
The Solidarity Sponsoring Committee was formed a year ago to push for a "living wage" of at least $16,000 a year, or about $7.70 an hour for a full-time worker, instead of the federally required minimum wage of $4.25 an hour.
Last fall, the organization and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church-based civic group, persuaded the City Council to approve legislation raising the minimum wage for service workers hired by city contractors.
Mayor Schmoke at first threatened to veto the measure, but then worked out a compromise with the council to boost the wages for janitors, security guards and other service workers. The bill he signed into law sets a minimum hourly wage for contractors doing business with the city of $6.10 an hour beginning July 1. The goal is to reach $7.70 an hour in four years.
It came as a big victory for BUILD, which has been pushing for a "social compact" for two years to demand that downtown hotels and other businesses raise wages, enhance training programs and offer better career opportunities to workers. BUILD argues that because public subsidies have made Inner Harbor development possible, downtown businesses should be obliged to create jobs that enable families to support themselves without government aid.
Yesterday, leaders of the workers organization made clear that they intend to pressure the two mayoral candidates in September's Democratic primary to help out in the private sector.
"We are organized and fighting for justice in our workplace," said Valerie Bell, a custodian who was fired while trying to unionize and got a new job from the mayor.
But the organization's platform was limited to a resolution giving workers the right to keep their jobs when a new company takes over a service contract, and a less complicated procedure for labor complaints brought to the Board of Estimates.
Coming out in support of the platform, Mrs. Clarke went a step further to call for steering more city business to local and minority-owned companies. Mr. Schmoke said, "I believe if you work full time in this country, you should not be poor."
Nevertheless, the mayor pointed out that the law guaranteeing a $6.10 hourly wage is adding to the city's contracting costs. As a result, he said, the city is unlikely to have enough resources to afford a nickel cut in the property tax rate this year.
His remark came as the only discord with Mrs. Clarke, who later said she still intends to push for a property tax cut.
Mayor Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke have clashed frequently at City Hall in the past months but kept a discreet distance from each other on their traditional weekend rounds to community meetings and festivals. As late as last week, they were staying apart while continuing to skirmish over the legitimacy of a series of questions raised by the Schmoke campaign over Mrs. Clarke's personal and election finances.