Mayoral race's war of words heats up CAMPAIGN 1995

September 01, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

In a sharp escalation of Baltimore's hard-fought mayoral campaign, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke accused City Council President Mary Pat Clarke last night of ill-conceived plans that would bankrupt the city, while she attacked him as a spendthrift.

Mr. Schmoke, who faces a tough challenge from his longtime City Hall rival, criticized her repeatedly in an hourlong televised debate for "trashing Baltimore" with misleading statistics and offering no clear solutions to the city's persistent problems.

Mrs. Clarke countered by charging that Mr. Schmoke, the two-term incumbent, was out of touch with the city and had wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on legal fees and in a controversial no-bid housing repair program.

With 11 days to go until the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, the top two contenders for the city's highest job traded barbs that at times turned personal. But the mood was lightened somewhat by Kelley C. Brohawn, a water taxi driver who said he is "not a polished speaker" but a "concerned citizen" running for mayor.

Mr. Brohawn tried to keep his two better-known opponents focused on the questions in the debate televised by Maryland Public Television, but they clashed at every opportunity.

"I can't stand by and see our city fall victim to crime and grime. I can't stand by while children attend substandard schools not equal to their talent and promise. I can't stand by while our jobs hemorrhage," Mrs. Clarke said. "We don't have to live like this."

Mr. Schmoke retorted that Mrs. Clarke had done little during her 16 years on the council, the last eight as its president, to create new jobs or fight crime. He went on to compare her to Dennis Kucinich, a former mayor of Cleveland, saying, "People in Cleveland took a gamble, and in two years the city was bankrupt. My opponent will also try to pay for things with all kinds of promises and probably borrow the city into debt."

The mayor directed most of his fire at Mrs. Clarke's often-asserted statistics to document Baltimore's decline during his time in office. He said she was using "false numbers" to "mislead the public" in saying Baltimore had lost 65,000 jobs, while 60 percent of students don't graduate from high school.

Mrs. Clarke attacked him for spending $25.6 million on a no-bid program to renovate run-down homes for the poor and the $2.4 million that went to Shapiro and Olander, a law firm with close political connections to the mayor. She defended her statistics as coming from the U.S. Department of Labor and from the

Baltimore school administration.

Mr. Schmoke, 45, wearing a jacket and a bright tie, was polished as he promoted his accomplishments in office -- from improvements in schools to increased state and federal aid.

He said his opponent shared the responsibility for any waste in the government because she had voted with him 98 percent of the time on contracts before the city's Board of Estimates, the five-member panel she chairs as council president.

"I've been in office and worked hard," he said. "Mrs. Clarke has been in office for 16 years, and there are no tangible results."

Mrs. Clarke, 54, dressed in a red suit and blue silk blouse, also was poised and controlled, wavering only once, in stating that the city lost one job a minute under Mr. Schmoke. Afterward, she corrected herself, saying it was a job an hour.

She promoted herself as "a doer, a person you can count on to get things done" while portraying Mr. Schmoke as "isolated."

"If Kurt Schmoke walked the neighborhoods like I do, he would have been out in Rognel Heights like I was and met two highly skilled men who were unemployed," she said.

Their characteristically angry exchanges led Mr. Brohawn, 37, to say he jumped into the race because while he respects both, he doesn't think either could lead Baltimore to a better future.

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