A difference of degree in mayoral campaign CAMPAIGN 1995

July 12, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Eric Siegel | JoAnna Daemmrich and Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

Baltimore's long-running political version of "He said, She said" is entering its crucial stage.

With exactly two months to go before the Sept. 12 primary, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, the allies who became rivals, are sharpening their messages as they stake their claims to the city's top office.

Mr. Schmoke, 45, and Mrs. Clarke, 54, were clashing over issues even before they announced their candidacies in the fall of 1993. Now the two Democrats are taking each other on over the most basic urban problems of joblessness, crime and beleaguered schools -- and their competence to find solutions.

The mayor, who is seeking a third term, is beginning to attack Mrs. Clarke as "very inconsistent" in her positions, while highlighting his achievements. Under his leadership, he says, Baltimore has "more strengths than weaknesses."

For her part, Mrs. Clarke is hammering hard at what she calls "the record of failure of Kurt Schmoke." She has kept up steady criticism of

his administration's efforts on education, economic development and crime, even questioning his nationally recognized position on drug decriminalization and treatment.

The mayor has issued the first two in a planned series of five booklets highlighting his accomplishments, but has yet to offer a detailed blueprint for the future.

Mrs. Clarke, on the other hand, has pledged some specific proposals to improve schools and boost the police force, but has talked little about her record as the leader of the 18-member City Council since 1987.

The positions of the candidates on the pressing issues facing the city represent more a difference of degree than a deep divide. Both Mrs. Clarke and Mr. Schmoke come out of the liberal, reform tradition and share many of the same philosophies on government.

In a radio debate Sunday night, for example, Mrs. Clarke called for stepped-up community policing and more treatment for drug addicts -- both of which the mayor supports.

"Drugs are Baltimore's second-largest industry, and frankly Mr. Mayor, any discussion of legalization is tantamount to giving up on the future of 50,000 Baltimoreans who are addicted to heroin and cocaine," she said during the debate on WCBM-AM. Mr. Schmoke was quick to respond that he already has instituted community-oriented police programs and said Mrs. Clarke did nothing to find more money in the city budget for drug treatment.

The mayor, who received national attention early in his administration for advocating that drug addiction be considered more of a public health than a law-enforcement problem, said $5 million in federal empowerment zone funds would be used to treat addicts.

"The key is coming up with the resources. I've been able to do that," he said.

Mr. Schmoke also pledged that if re-elected he would reappoint to a full six-year term Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, calling him one of the best law enforcement leaders in the country. The mayor challenged Mrs. Clarke to say whether she would do the same.

She demurred, but said, "I will work with any commissioner who will understand and work with me on what true community policing is."

With few key substantive issues to separate the candidates, many political observers say voters may wind up basing their decisions on whom they consider the better leader.

"It's going to come down to personalities in a lot of voters' minds," said Herb Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College who has tracked past city elections. "Has he done a good job? And can she sell herself as a credible improvement?"

The unions and citywide civic groups have yet to make their endorsements, as have many of the smaller political clubs.

Mr. Schmoke gained early backing from a coalition of three northeast political groups -- the 43/44 Democratic Club, North Central Democratic Coalition and Third District Metro Citizens; Mrs. Clarke is still looking to pick up her first endorsement.

But the recent action -- or inaction -- of one well-known political club may be telling. At its meeting last month, the New Democratic Coalition-5 endorsed neither candidate.

Despite two ballots, neither candidate could come up with the required approval of 60 percent of the club's membership, said NDC-5 president Larry Eisenstein, an outcome he termed "very unusual."

"I think it generally reflects the mixed sentiments of the club and the electorate as well as to who is best qualified to lead the city," Mr. Eisenstein said.

Mrs. Clarke is waging what many consider a risky campaign in the same tireless, grass-roots style that made her a household name during her nearly 16 years in the council and as its president. She's in the neighborhoods every day, standing at street corners to wave to commuters, going to community meetings and knocking on doors.

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