Important but quiet city vote set today' In a first, blacks ready to win 3 top offices, majority on council

November 07, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Baltimoreans go to the polls today to choose their city government in a low-key election likely to quietly usher in a new political era.

For the first time in Baltimore's history, African-Americans are poised to capture all three of the city's highest elected offices and a majority of seats on the City Council.

The historic change is expected to take place with hardly any fanfare because of the virtual absence of hard-fought races in the general election.

The forecast is for rain and temperatures in the 50s, which could further chill voter enthusiasm.

In the overwhelmingly Democratic city, the Democratic candidates for the top offices -- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke for a third term, Lawrence A. Bell III for council president, and Joan M. Pratt for comptroller -- are easy favorites to win. All three face little-known Republican opponents.

Nevertheless, the Maryland Republican Party, after decades of staying out of city politics, is making a determined pitch. The state GOP mailed out toughly worded brochures supporting Victor Clark Jr. for mayor, Anthony D. Cobb for council president, and Christopher P. McShane for comptroller.

Republicans are running for council seats in all but one of the six districts. In South Baltimore's 6th District, Joseph Brown Jr., who waged a strong campaign, is considered to have a chance at breaking the 53-year Democratic monopoly of the council.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Except for the Republican appeals, the campaign has been so subdued that election officials are predicting a light turnout of the city's 317,000 registered voters.

"If it's quiet, as it's been, you can be pretty much guaranteed the turnout is going to be low," said Barbara Jackson, head of the city's election board.

She expects about 30 percent of registered voters to cast their ballots, which would be consistent with the pattern in the general municipal elections in recent years. In 1991, turnout was 27.4 percent, down from 34 percent in 1987 and 37 percent in 1983.

Voter interest may be diminished further by the drama of two major news stories over the weekend, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the move of the Cleveland Browns football team to Baltimore.

In the Democratic primary, a bitter race between Mr. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke led to the highest voter turnout in a dozen years. Democratic turnout was 52 percent, up from 40 percent in 1991 and 46 percent in 1987.

Eight bond issues totaling $32 million to repair schools, attract biotechnology firms, expand the Baltimore Zoo and remove asbestos from city buildings and other matters are expected to pass.

The council is changing a third of its members, and is about to become predominantly black after today's election, with either 10 of the 18 seats if all the Democrats prevail, or 11, if Mr. Brown wins.

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