Kurt L. Schmoke had a hard time keeping on task yesterday.
He was supposed to be focusing on jobs. It was the campaign theme of the day.
"I've got to stay on my course," he said early on. "Talk about jobs."
Yet, before the day was out he had learned how to make an assembly-line taco, leaped to the rescue of a fainting schoolgirl, gotten the lowdown on crab reproduction, promised to send the police in to the 800 block of W. Lexington St. to chase away drug dealers, chowed down on a heaping plateful of fried chicken and potato salad, and gotten an enormous hug from Grace Smithlin -- who later confided that she loved his hug and loved his kiss but couldn't say who she planned to vote for Tuesday.
The mayor, at the end of a long and hard-fought campaign, had four public appearances yesterday, a TV interview, a couple of meetings at City Hall and a private fund-raiser. It was not a terribly grueling schedule, but he looked like a man who was longing for the campaign to come to an end. His voice a little hoarse, he tended at times to talk too fast. Yet everywhere he went he stopped to listen patiently to people who wanted to talk about schools, crime, jobs, or whatever was on their minds.
At the Columbus Center yesterday morning, where he had come to help open the new Science and Technology Education Center, Mr. Schmoke gave a stump speech on jobs, but then found himself watching intensely a few minutes later as Brandon Lockett, 15, of Dunbar High School, carefully extracted some fish DNA from a test tube.
Brandon gave a small vial of it to the mayor who held it up to the light and peered through it, with a look of genuine curiosity on his face.
He encountered William Straube, a postdoctoral researcher into the life cycles of the blue crab. "When crabs reproduce, do they just gush out thousands at a time?" the mayor asked. The answer was yes, but the larger question was: Whatever happened to the jobs theme?
The mayor ran into Sara Taylor, who had been his sixth-grade teacher at Gwynns Falls Elementary. She gave him a hug and carefully brushed some confetti off his shoulders. "I watch his development," she said. "And I get on him when he steps out of line."
The most dramatic moment of the day happened early on. During the dedication ceremony for the new education center, a young schoolgirl from Summit Park Elementary School in Baltimore County fainted forward onto the sidewalk. In an instant Mr. Schmoke had picked up an empty folding chair and was striding off the low podium to come to her aid and at the same time summoning Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr.
There was nothing calculated about it; the other dignitaries, including Richard W. Riley, the U.S. secretary of education, and Nancy S. Grasmick, the Maryland school superintendent, sat pinned to their seats. The girl came to on her own, and a teacher carried her off. The mayor slipped back into his chair.
At noon, the mayor was at St. Paul Street and North Avenue to help dedicate a Taco Bell that had been added to a KFC fast-food restaurant. There was a mob of KFC executives and three patrons. The mayor joined the kitchen crew and made a beef taco, but he didn't eat it.
Outside, Wayne Smith approached him and asked about a city '' construction job. The mayor told him who to see. Mr. Smith said he had his vote.
"Oh, I think he's wonderful," said Janet Haywood, 61, at the Lexington-Poe public housing project in West Baltimore.
Mr. Schmoke was coming around to get the endorsement of the city's tenant council -- a move inspired by Mary Pat Clarke's ads in the Baltimore Times in which she trumpets her own support among public housing residents, according to Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing commissioner.
"He goes that extra mile for everybody," said Mrs. Haywood.
About four dozen people had turned out. The mayor went from table to table, listening, talking, patting arms. He was supposed to be pounding away on the theme of jobs, but when politics gets this local, big themes tend to be forgotten. People just wanted to talk. A weary Kurt Schmoke just wanted to listen.