Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had this to say yesterday to William Donald Schaefer: "Dare you."
To which the former governor of Maryland and erstwhile mayor of Baltimore replied: "Double dare you."
There they went again.
The long-feuding enemies, whose animosity has been tempered only by some brief rapprochements over the years, were back in fine form yesterday.
Mr. Schmoke, the button-down mayor known for his polished Ivy League demeanor, took a hard line with his savvy, do-it-now predecessor.
Deflecting the latest blunt criticism from Mr. Schaefer, who blamed him for jeopardizing Baltimore's tourism business, the mayor said, "If all this is just a warm-up to the candidacy, I believe that either he gets in or shuts up."
"I thought he was going to be an elder statesman and kind of rise above it all," Mr. Schmoke said. "But it seems that leopards don't change their spots."
Mr. Schaefer had warned the day before that the mayor's attempts to wrest control of the city convention bureau could "destroy tourism."
He had a few more tough words yesterday for Mr. Schmoke, whom he has often accused of not doing the job as well as he did in 15 years as Baltimore's mayor.
"Let's talk about how dirty the city is," Mr. Schaefer said. "Let's look at all the vacant lots, let's look at all the houses that are falling apart, let's look at the schools. . .The city's in bad shape. I'm going to speak out on how I see it."
Although he continued to hedge on whether he plans to enter the mayoral race, Mr. Schaefer said he would be more than happy to compare his record of 15 years as mayor to Mr. Schmoke's two terms.
And he said he's not afraid of losing a campaign.
"I was able to produce here," Mr. Schaefer said. "I have lost before. One thing I don't want to lose -- I don't want to lose the city."
It sounded like the old days when Mr. Schaefer, always devoted to Baltimore, always eager for momentum, was striding city streets jotting down notes on abandoned homes and trash-strewn alleys.
Mr. Schaefer, who said the mayor's attack showed "he's scared," seemed ready to fight his way back to City Hall.
Yet he remained coy about his prospects in the mayoral campaign, which already has turned into an acrimonious, hard-fought race between Mr. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.
Mrs. Clarke, who had been relegated to the sidelines for much of the past two days as the news media embraced a potential Schaefer candidacy, had a chance to face off with Mr. Schmoke last night at a forum sponsored by the Mount Royal Democratic (( Club.
Asked whether she's bracing for an entry by Mr. Schaefer, Mrs. Clarke said, "I think he's concerned about the future of the city, and he certainly has every right to express his concern. I really don't think he's planning to run, but we have not talked about it."