Schmoke answers sarcasm in kind Exchange of thanks yields stinging letter to critical constituent

November 17, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Did he just have a bad day? Or is Mayor Cerebral becoming Mayor Annoyed?

Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimore's earnest, studious mayor, hardly seems the type to dash off pointed notes to disgruntled constituents.

Unlike William Donald Schaefer, his temperamental predecessor who was nicknamed "Mayor Annoyed" and became infamous as governor for his poison-pen missives to detractors, Mr. Schmoke usually takes criticism in stride.

But when he got a sarcastic "Thank You" card from a woman who asked for his help with a Halloween party at the Lexington Terrace housing development, Mr. Schmoke sent an equally ironical handwritten reply.

He also dug out and included a snapshot of her wearing a campaign T-shirt of Mary Pat Clarke, the archrival he defeated in the bitter Democratic mayoral primary race earlier this fall.

"Enclosed is a photograph taken of us on Primary Election Day," Mr. Schmoke wrote in the Nov. 2 note to Barbara McKinney. "I thought you would be interested in this for your files."

Perhaps it's another facet of the more demonstrative style he promised in his third term. But his note left Ms. McKinney incredulous.

"I said, 'No he didn't!' " Ms. McKinney said. "How petty."

A longtime community activist and volunteer at Lexington Terrace, Ms. McKinney, 43, had worked on Mr. Schmoke's first two mayoral campaigns. But this year she supported Mrs. Clarke's bid to unseat the mayor -- largely because of a falling out with Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, one of Mr. Schmoke's closest political confidants.

On Halloween, as she has for the past 13 years, Ms. McKinney created a haunted house for children in her apartment building.

Friends and relatives dressed up as monsters, and a funeral home provided a coffin. But she learned at the last minute that she couldn't use the recreation center for a party afterward, and the mayor's office did not respond to her plea for help. She served hot dogs in her apartment.

Ms. McKinney fired off a sharply critical note to Mr. Schmoke, saying he had pledged to start afresh and had talked of being inspired by the Million Man March in Washington.

"I would like to thank you again for not supporting me," she wrote on Oct. 30. "I thought you being up there with Minister [Louis] Farrakhan, you would have come back with great support for a community, and community leaders as myself. P.S. You promised to mend broken wings."

When she picked up her mail, Ms. McKinney says, she was astounded by the mayor's pointed, but politely worded, note. "I can't believe he took the time," she said.

It was uncharacteristic of Mr. Schmoke, who in his eight years in office has demonstrated that he is generally slow to anger and more focused on urban policy issues than nitty complaints.

But it didn't come close to matching some of the more memorable notes by former Governor Schaefer, who mailed this message to a woman who claimed she gave him a thumbs-down sign: "Your action only exceeds the ugliness of your face." Mr. Schaefer said the woman actually gave him a "finger up" gesture.

Mr. Schmoke called it "just an exchange of Thank You notes. I think she wanted a response, and she got an appropriate one."

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