Schmoke re-elected in 20% turnout African-Americans hold top 3 offices, City Council majority

Bell is council president

8 bond questions, worth $32 million, win clear approval

November 08, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Robert Guy Matthews contributed to this article.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke cruised effortlessly to a third term yesterday, leading a parade of Democrats back to Baltimore City Hall in a lethargic election marked by the lowest voter turnout in at least 50 years.

Mr. Schmoke overwhelmed his little-known Republican opponent, Victor Clark Jr., a car salesman who raised just $1,000 and ran the barest semblance of a campaign. With nearly 90 percent of the city's 372 precincts reporting, Mr. Schmoke was leading Mr. Clark by almost four votes to one.

The mayor last night pledged to make fighting crime and creating jobs the top priorities of his third administration.

"We are going to work real hard, we're going to work together to really prove the truth of President Clinton's view that cities are centers of expanding opportunities for all," Mr. Schmoke told supporters at his downtown campaign headquarters.

Democrats easily won equally scarcely contested races for City Council president and comptroller. They also held on to 18 council seats, as an aggressive campaign by a Republican hoping to capture one for the GOP for the first time in half a century fell way short.

Eight out of 10 eligible voters didn't even bother going to the polls yesterday. Voter enthusiasm, diminished by the virtual absence of hard-fought races, was further chilled by the dreary, rainy day.

The 20 percent turnout of the city's 317,000 registered voters was down from 27 percent four years ago and 34 percent in 1987.

In the overwhelmingly Democratic city, politicians made little effort after the grueling September primary, and many voters did not even appear to realize there was an election yesterday.

"It's really bad. It's the lowest I can ever remember," said Barbara Jackson, head of the city's election board.

Yet, a historic shift in power was quietly ratified, as African-Americans captured all three of the top elected offices and a majority of council seats for the first time in Baltimore's history.

City Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, who made a name for himself with his aggressive anti-crime crusade, rose to the city's second-highest office by soundly defeating Republican Anthony D. Cobb to become council president.

Accountant Joan M. Pratt, a political novice who surprised many by beating a veteran state legislator in the primary race for comptroller, won over rival Republican accountant Christopher P. McShane.

Eight bond questions -- a $32 million package of loans to repair schools, attract biotechnology firms, expand the Baltimore Zoo, remove asbestos from city buildings and make other improvements -- were handily approved.

The City Council changed a third of its members, but Democrats captured all 18 seats, despite the determined Republican challenge in the 6th District, which covers south and southwestern Baltimore. Republican Joseph Brown Jr., an insurance salesman, waged an aggressive, well-financed campaign that brought the Democrats out of their usual general-election slumber.

Unlike most of the city's 287 polling places, campaign volunteers were busy handing out fliers and making last-minute appeals yesterday to voters in the 6th District. Mr. Brown had campaign workers stationed at nearly every polling precinct, as did Democrats Melvin Stukes, Norman Handy Sr. and Edward Reisinger, all of whom were taking nothing for granted.

State Republicans campaigned up to the end with Mr. Brown. The Maryland GOP, after years of staying out of Democratic-dominated city politics, also made a determined pitch with brochures urging voters to turn to the Republicans and "Send Kurt Schmoke a message he'll never forget."

Mr. Schmoke, 45, devoted almost no time to the campaign after his bitter primary fight against long-time rival Mary Pat Clarke. Mrs. Clarke, the outgoing City Council president and one of Baltimore's more popular politicians, relentlessly criticized his handling of stubborn urban problems and called for a change in leadership.

The primary was supposed to be tight but turned into a blowout for Mr. Schmoke, in part because of the highest voter turnout in a dozen years. Democratic turnout in the September primary was 52 percent, up from 40 percent four years ago and 46 percent in 1987.

For politicians and voters alike in Baltimore, where Democrats outnumber Republicans nine to one, the general election was so anti-climactic that they could muster little interest in it.

Only a few forlorn campaign signs were stuck in yards. Even the victory parties were low-key. Instead of toasting the mayor's victory by sipping champagne and dancing at a hotel at the Inner Harbor, Schmoke campaign workers gathered for a small fete at his campaign headquarters last night.

Among those there to hear his victory speech were U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Mr. Schmoke, upbeat and relaxed, voted at 8 a.m. and made a quick trip to check on polls before returning to City Hall.

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