Political leaders have feared the wide-open race for the 7th District congressional seat would pit East Baltimore against West and shatter the city's fragile alliances. The first evidence that may happen surfaced yesterday as Del. Clarence "Tiger" Davis kicked off his campaign for Congress.
Mr. Davis, a four-term legislator from East Baltimore, found himself trying to light a fire under his supporters while trying to put out a fire over the Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO) backing a Westside candidate.
The feeling among many of the supporters who turned out yesterday to cheer on Mr. Davis was one of betrayal by their district leader, state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, who dropped out of the congressional race Friday and threw his support -- and that of his organization, EDO -- behind West Baltimore Del. Elijah E. Cummings.
"McFadden speaks for McFadden and not for me or the average people in East Baltimore and in the EDO," shouted Davis supporter John Goodman from the back of the room at the Elks Lodge at Harford Road and 20th Street.
But Mr. Davis, 53, who is one of 25 Democrats running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Kweisi Mfume, called for unity.
"I've gotten many calls from people who are disgusted and angry with what EDO and Senator McFadden did in endorsing Elijah Cummings," Mr. Davis said, speaking to a group of more than 50 grass-roots supporters.
"Despite what [Mr. McFadden] has done, he is still my friend," Mr. Davis continued. "Senator McFadden will not be the first person to make a mistake."
But, he stressed, "The one thing I do not want is disharmony in the community."
The EDO's endorsement of Mr. Cummings, the House speaker pro tem from West Baltimore, seems to be on its way to breaking apart the fragile peace among East Baltimore political factions that had been brokered for the 1990 and 1994 statewide elections, after skirmishes that date to 1982.
Most recently, in the 1994 races, the EDO and Mr. Davis' maverick Greater East Baltimore Political Organization (formerly the 45th Legislative Conference) came to an understanding, and he ran on a ticket with Mr. McFadden and two other EDO candidates.
Mr. Davis said he was concerned that EDO's violation of East Baltimore's "cardinal rule" against supporting a Westside candidate would lead to political war and splinter the Eastside bloc. But his pleas alone may not be able to hold back the tide, given the belief among some East Baltimore community activists and elected officials that the Westside holds the political power, and has treated the Eastside like the poor stepchild of the city and the 7th District.
Mr. Davis said in a later interview that on one level he understood Mr. McFadden's action. "It's business," he said.
But, he added, "The power rests with the Westside, and we want the power and equity."
He pledged to locate district offices all through the 7th District to serve as community outreach centers; create an economic development section to serve small businesses, and continue his work with veterans groups.
He also said he would establish a 7th District Congressional Coordinating Council made up of business, community and religious leaders to "develop, promote and carry out appropriate public policies."
He conceded he will not be able to raise the big sums -- as much as $350,000 by some estimates -- needed to run an advertising and direct-mail blitz in the sprint toward the March 5 primary.
But he said he could corral 7,000 to 8,000 votes in the city's 8th Ward, in the heart of East Baltimore, and a matching number in the 9th Ward, which reaches up to the Northeast Baltimore legislative district of Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., another candidate for Mr. Mfume's seat.
"We have people power," he said.