City Election Whirlwind

September 14, 1995

It may take months before Baltimoreans fully grasp how much Tuesday's primary election whirlwind altered the city's political landscape.

While Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was renominated to a third term and is standing taller than before, other fixtures in the city's political life -- Mary Pat Clarke, Julian Lapides, Joseph DiBlasi, Vera Hall and Carl Stokes -- were swept aside.

Here are some other measures of the changes:

After November, when Republicans go through the motion of holding a general election in this heavily Democratic city, Mr. Schmoke could be the only incumbent remaining on the five-member Board of Estimates. City Council President Lawrence Bell and Comptroller Joan Pratt will be new to their jobs; one of the mayor's appointees, City Solicitor Neal Janey, is joining a private law firm; the other, Public Works Director George Balog, may be on his way out in an agency reorganization.

Of the City Council's 18 members, eight will be newcomers and two almost-newcomers. That means new power dynamics and different alliances within the council and an altered relationship between the council and the mayor. "My sense is that it's a new day," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday.

Although he and Mr. Bell have often been at loggerheads in the past, the mayor struck a conciliatory pose. "We're all going to start fresh: Lawrence is going to want to establish himself as a leader," he said. Then, referring to Ms. Pratt, who is a close personal friend of the mayor's chief of staff, Mr. Schmoke added: "I think it's going to be a good team for Baltimore."

In savoring his landslide renomination, Mr. Schmoke owes much to the strong voter mobilization drive engineered by Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's political strategist, and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III. Their all-out effort for the mayor, particularly on the west side, was most impressive, benefiting also Ms. Pratt and Mr. Bell, although the mayor's preferred candidate for council president was Vera Hall.

Mr. Schmoke got all but 6 percent of the vote in his home ward, then took 22.3 percent of the vote in Mrs. Clarke's home turf. His target was to equal the turnout of African American voters for the election of Gov. Parris Glendening; he exceeded it.

The results showed that Baltimore is different from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where white mayoral candidates have emerged to defeat black incumbents. The African American political culture in this city is more deeply embedded. Even a century ago, black male participation in elections was considerable here. Even in the 1920s, there were minority members of the City Council.

In the end, the victory was won by Mr. Schmoke. His strong support was due to his personal popularity, his stability, his hopeful vision of the city and his aura as the candidate best able to govern Baltimore in a fiscally responsible way. At the same time, he was able to tar Mary Pat Clarke by raising questions about her public spending philosophy and her proposal to tax drug profits.

Things may have broken down, voters seem to say, but they trusted Mr. Schmoke more than Mrs. Clarke to make the necessary fixes.

Tuesday's primary results showed that most Baltimoreans wanted change. But change comes in various forms. That's why voters renominated Mr. Schmoke, while throwing their support to his consistent critic, Mr. Bell, and to an untried comptroller candidate, Ms. Pratt. This situation cries out for the fresh start the mayor talked about.

All now depends on Mr. Schmoke's ability to show he has learned from this campaign and his eight years at City Hall and will act accordingly.

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