Mayor Schmoke's piece of the 'Roc'

June 29, 1995|By Harold Jackson

THERE'S MORE than one Baltimore. Of all people, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was mayor of this city 15 years, should know that. Yet in his current zeal to boost the

mayoral campaign of City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, he finds himself accused of suggesting there is no Baltimore other than the one he epitomizes Stage, film and television star Charles S. Dutton is upset because he was told Mr. Schaefer had dismissed the impact of radio spots by Mr. Dutton for the re-election of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "This former governor dissed me on a radio talk show," said Mr. Dutton.

He said Mr. Schaefer in a WCBM radio show had aimed at him the ultimate insult for natives of this city; saying Mr. Dutton isn't a Baltimorean but an outsider from Hollywood that the city will ignore.

Mr. Schaefer denied Wednesday that he ever made such remarks. But the die has been cast, whether by the former governor or by a shrewd Schmoke campaign staff that wanted to light a fire under Mr. Dutton.

Mr. Dutton really does go by the nickname "Roc," which was what he called his now canceled TV show. And just like that television character, he has decided he can't back down from a challenge. He says he will make more personal appearances and radio ads for Mr. Schmoke.

Having Roc speak for him won't be pivotal to the Schmoke campaign. But -- like his red, black and green campaign colors -- it is another important symbol in the mayor's push to make sure that a Baltimore of which Mr. Schaefer cannot claim to be a symbol remains firmly in the Schmoke re-election camp -- black Baltimore.

Mr. Dutton's story is an inspiration to many African Americans in this city. He is a Baltimorean, born here in 1951. He went to school in Baltimore until he got to junior high. That's when he decided his street education was more important. But his matriculation there didn't last long either.

"I went to junior high school one year and the rest of my time I spent in the Maryland prison system. So I know Baltimore from both within and without," joked Mr. Dutton Monday at the Schmoke headquarters.

He was only 17 when he began a seven- year stint in prison on a manslaughter conviction for killing another man in a knife fight. He was a tough guy in prison, too, once even assaulting a guard. It was while he was in solitary confinement in 1972 that he read an anthology of plays by black writers that inspired him to start a prison drama club. After prison he studied at Towson State before being accepted into the graduate school of drama at Yale.

The rest is history. As an actor, Mr. Dutton has lived in New Haven, Conn., New York and Los Angeles. But he always comes home to Baltimore, sometimes twice a month, to visit family and bTC friends. He still feels a part of the city. It was natural for him to make a TV show about a Baltimore family living in a tough rowhouse neighborhood.

The show lasted only three seasons; it was canceled in 1994. But Mr. Dutton says that's longer than he expected, given Hollywood politics.

"If I was doing what Martin Lawrence is doing, if the show was made of fluff lightweight material, like 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air' or 'Family Matters,' then we would still be on the air," Mr. Dutton said. " 'Roc' dealt with issues in a non-sitcom way. When you deal with issues in a non-sitcom way you don't make a joke out of it."

He said it made sense for him to get involved in Baltimore politics after the cancellation of 'Roc.' The show included several episodes in which he was a candidate for City Council and pushed for reforms. "I think what I'm doing now definitely reflects what I was trying to do on the television show about this city," said Mr. Dutton.

He said he couldn't understand Mr. Schaefer's alleged attack. "I have done more for him, granting requests from him and his office as governor, than I've ever done for the mayor. He wanted to go on 'Roc,' begged me, his office was calling once a month to go on the television show.

"I've come to Maryland to start major programs for youth and education at the behest and the request of the governor. Now, I exercise my right as an American to support the candidate of my choice, which happens to be Mayor Schmoke, and Schaefer gets on a radio talk show and says 'who's Charles Dutton?'" Mr. Dutton has a suggestion to determine who is recognized by Baltimoreans in a certain neighborhood. "Since we both have some celebrity status. Let's meet on North and Greenmount avenues, with no security, and in five minutes we'll find out who's from Greenmount Avenue and who's not."

Mrs. Clarke gets little reaction from Mr. Dutton, who calls her a "nice lady" whom he has met twice. "I understand she's liked in the black community and that's good, that's positive. I think if she's been supportive of

the black community she should continue to do so after this election, when she goes back to the City Council," he said.

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