Election Day near, but few signs of fight Baltimore contests lack campaign heat of primary races

GOP hopes lie on council

Schmoke challenger battles, but numbers are against him

November 05, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.

Looking for signs of Baltimore's impending election? There are scarcely any in town.

Two days before Baltimoreans go to the polls to choose a new city government, only a few forlorn campaign signs are stuck in yards and plastered on storefronts.

No politicians are fighting over the best downtown intersection to wave at motorists. No sound trucks are cruising the streets blaring campaign slogans. No hotel ballrooms have been reserved for lavish parties on election night.

Even though the city's top elective offices and a $32 million bond package are at stake in Tuesday's general election, political activity and voter enthusiasm have been dampened by the virtual absence of hard-fought races.

"What election?" quipped Arthur W. Murphy, a political consultant. "The only people who will show up are people with perfect voting records."

It is in sharp contrast to the Sept. 12 primary, which featured a bitter Democratic mayoral contest between Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke that drew national attention. Their battle, and the closely contested races for council president and comptroller, led to the largest voter turnout in a dozen years.

But in Baltimore, Democrats outnumber Republicans 9 to 1, making victory in the Democratic primary tantamount to election. Mr. Schmoke, who easily defeated Mrs. Clarke, is an overwhelming favorite to win a third term over his little-known Republican challenger. So are Democratic candidates Lawrence A. Bell for council president and Joan M. Pratt for comptroller.

Democrats are unopposed in the 4th Council District, but one of them, Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., faces a court hearing on whether he meets the residency requirements, though his name will be on the ballot.

One Republican is running in the 5th District, two are running in the 2nd and 3rd, and full slates of three Republican candidates are running in the 1st and 6th.

In South Baltimore's 6th District, Republican Joseph Brown Jr. is believed to have a chance of breaking up the 53-year Democratic monopoly of the council. Mr. Brown created a political furor with his vigorous campaign, supported by statewide Republicans, and he had more money to spend in the final week than his Democratic opponents.

The Maryland Republican Party, after staying out of city politics for decades, also mounted a brochure blitz urging voters to turn to the Republicans and "send Kurt Schmoke a message he'll never forget."

Mailed to 19,000 Democratic and 8,000 Republican households, the campaign literature called for a "vote for change" with Victor Clark Jr. for mayor, Anthony D. Cobb for council president and Christopher P. McShane for comptroller.

Except for the unusual degree of determined Republican appeals, the campaign over the past two months has been so restrained and low-key that it has been downright lethargic.

One of the biggest pitches has come from a cadre of city officials promoting the $32 million bond package to renovate schools, revitalize blighted areas, attract biotechnology businesses and expand the Baltimore Zoo. City planners and members of the mayor's Cabinet criss-crossed the city with a slide show and glossy pamphlets touting the bonds.

Mr. Schmoke, 45, has devoted little time to his campaign, which is widely regarded as little more than a formality at this point. His energy and efforts have been focused on a review of city agencies and dealing with both a school budget deficit and a controversial proposed lawsuit settlement that would move public housing families to the suburbs.

His intrepid Republican challenger, Mr. Clark, made the rounds repeating the refrain: "The election's not over."

Mr. Clark, 50, an accountant and car salesman, has tried unsuccessfully three times for office. He has been full of enthusiasm and optimism, even though he spent only $1,000 to take on Mr. Schmoke with his sizable campaign treasury, and even though Baltimore has not had a Republican mayor since 1967.

In their only debate, the two men politely exchanged views before a crowd of mostly Schmoke supporters in a West Baltimore church in late October.

"Things obviously look good for us," Mr. Schmoke said last week. "I don't think the Republicans have made the case that there is a need for change."

Although he acknowledges that he has little chance of beating Mr. Schmoke, Mr. Clark said he would be happy to see any Republican win an office in City Hall.

"I would love to sit back Tuesday night and shake hands with three Republicans who have been elected to the City Council. I would love three. I'll take one," he said.

Election officials are predicting a turnout of about 30 percent of the city's 317,000 registered voters, of whom 269,003 are Democrats and 30,989 Republicans. In the Sept. 12 primary, Democratic turnout was 52 percent, up from 40 percent four years ago and 46 percent in 1987.

Weary after the tough primary races, most of the Democratic candidates aren't even up to a big celebration.

In September, Schmoke supporters toasted his victory with champagne and danced as a band played at an Inner Harbor hotel. On Tuesday night, a smaller crowd is expected to gather at the campaign headquarters instead to watch the results. The menu? "Maybe we'll have grilled cheese," said Craig Kirby, the campaign spokesman.

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