Doer vs. thinker: A matter of style

July 30, 1995|By Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich | Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

Seldom have the differences in leadership between Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke been as stark as in the recent flap over the city's curfew.

After the city stopped enforcing its year-old curfew July 7 because Maryland's highest court struck down an almost identical law in Frederick, Mrs. Clarke, who is challenging the mayor's bid for a third term, sprang into action. She quickly called the council into emergency session and pushed through a revised bill after just one public hearing. When Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke did not sign the bill immediately, she charged that the city was "living on borrowed time" without a law to keep youngsters off the streets at night.

Mr. Schmoke, however, refused to rush to judgment. He found money to keep pools and recreation centers open later and hired a legal expert to determine if the new law would withstand a court challenge. Only after the expert cleared the measure did the mayor act. He signed the bill Thursday, two weeks after it passed the council, saying, "It requires real analysis to make sure these laws pass constitutional muster."

Kurt L. Schmoke vs. Mary Pat Clarke -- The One-Man Think Tank vs. The Doyenne of Do It Now.

"They're at different extremes," state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., chairman of Baltimore's Senate delegation, said of the rivals who will square off in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. "He tends to study issues, to defer judgment until a study is completed. She tends to make decisions on the spot."

In Mr. Schmoke, voters have the quintessential cerebral candidate. During his 7 1/2 years in office, the 45-year-old Ivy League-educated Rhodes scholar has carefully embraced a range of new ideas, from Nehemiah housing, a public-private partnership to build low-income developments, to needle exchange, a program to reduce AIDS infection among drug addicts. He also has heavily promoted an idea of his own that won him national recognition -- decriminalizing drugs. Last week, Newsweek magazine included him among its list of the "overclass" -- the new elite in America.

But Mr. Schmoke's low-key approach and studious manner have often made him seem lost in thought: aloof from some of the gritty details of urban life, reluctant to be a cheerleader and unable to move swiftly.

In Mrs. Clarke, voters have the prototypical populist politician. During her two terms as council president, the 54-year-old former schoolteacher has often come across as a feisty one-woman clearinghouse for constituent concerns and a champion of community causes.

But Mrs. Clarke's full-speed-ahead style has often made her seem frantic and frenzied: so quick to jump on the latest bandwagon that she acts before thinking, unwilling to take politically unpopular stands, and infrequently siding against individual neighborhoods.

On their campaign rounds of community meetings and debates, both make the case that their style of leadership -- as well as their often-similar positions on the issues -- is just what Baltimore needs.

Mayor Schmoke argues that his steady hand has enabled the city to survive a recession and state and federal cuts while keeping a balanced budget and a high bond rating. His administration, he says, has moved forward on projects from the Columbus Center for marine biotechnology at the Inner Harbor, to the empowerment zone, a $100 million federal program to revitalize some of the city's most decayed neighborhoods.

"I am running for re-election because we are building on a foundation of progress," he said at a community meeting in Charles Village this month.

Mrs. Clarke contends that her take-charge way of doing things will inspire the city to pull out of its well-documented spiral of decline.

"Philosophically, we may not be that different," she told a forum sponsored by the New Democratic Coalition-5 in North Baltimore. "But I'm a doer."

And each is taking swipes at the other's style.

"I don't spend a lot of time at national debates," said Mrs. Clarke, an obvious reference to Mr. Schmoke's frequent television appearances in support of his position that drug addiction should be treated as a health problem.

"I believe very firmly there's a difference between do-it-now and do-it-right," Mr. Schmoke said.

To some, the rival approaches of the two can be explained by their differing positions. As mayor of a city where disproportionate power resides with the chief executive, Mr. Schmoke sets the agenda, limiting Mrs. Clarke mostly to to articulating issues and trying to prod the executive branch.

"Their jobs are apples and oranges," said state Del. Timothy D. Murphy, a South Baltimore Democrat who served in the council until January. "She only has the resources to react."

Others say the differences reflect more a fundamental difference in their backgrounds and temperament.

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