Election season starts in church Candidates seek prayers and votes among city's faithful

July 13, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

At the altar of the corner church in East Baltimore, the pastor bestowed his blessing on the visiting dignitary along with a few gifts from the congregation: a case of bottled water, a jar of peppermints and a Bible.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening observed gratefully that all will come in handy in the next few months.

In churches large and small across Baltimore yesterday, politicians ushered in Maryland's summer campaign season. Glendening, his chief Republican rival, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, and one of the candidates for state comptroller, Joan M. Pratt, crisscrossed paths to attend separate services.

"What better place to start?" said the Rev. Thomas Tripline, head of the deacons at New Life Evangelical Baptist Church on North Avenue.

New Life was the second of three east-side parishes the incumbent Democratic governor visited to ask for prayers -- and votes. Glendening left, carrying his new Bible and candy jar, for First Apostolic Church on Caroline Street; his first stop had been United Baptist Church on Broadway.

Sauerbrey and Glendening

Baltimore is a core part of Glendening's political base. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city by more than 9 to 1, and they provided much of his narrow margin of victory in 1994. But despite the odds, the GOP's Sauerbrey has also been visiting churches in Baltimore, partly in an attempt to soften her image as a rigid conservative.

Sauerbrey returned yesterday morning to Mount Hattin Baptist, a tiny storefront church in East Baltimore not far from her childhood home that is now empty and shuttered.

"I know the concern people have here about drugs, crime and unemployment," she said as she walked into the sanctuary. "I've seen the decline, the loss of small businesses. The streets where I could walk by myself as a kid, parents are now afraid to let their children play."

Though they prayed and clasped hands with parishioners at churches only two miles apart, Sauerbrey and Glendening promoted starkly different agendas.

Sauerbrey suggested residents have to help themselves, saying government programs have failed the city. Glendening talked of the family poverty that defined his early life and promised to build on his governmental initiatives to improve public education and expand health insurance for the poor.

"This is going to be a battle," he told the 100 New Life parishioners. "I need your prayers, I need your spiritual support, and I need you to make sure everyone is registered and gets out to vote."

Glendening also depicted his leading Democratic challenger, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who has the backing of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, as dangerously pro-gambling. The governor has been courting the church vote for months by emphasizing his opposition to slots and casino gambling. Rehrmann favors slots at the racetracks as a way to help Maryland's horse racing industry and generate money for education.

Glendening is expected to be endorsed today by a leading group of Baltimore ministers.

Meanwhile, Pratt, Baltimore's comptroller, greeted fellow parishioners at Bethel AME Church, many of whom pledged to help in her quest for the state comptroller's job left vacant by the death of Louis L. Goldstein on July 3.

Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's surprise entrance into the race to succeed Goldstein has prompted at least four of the dozen Democrats who filed last week to withdraw. But Pratt has been undeterred by the outpouring of support for Schaefer.

Pratt and Schaefer

Pratt put in a full day of campaigning at shopping malls in Prince George's, Howard and Baltimore counties on Saturday, and fit in more appearances yesterday, including an evening stop at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore. Her volunteers have handed out fliers and posted signs with her picture across the city.

"I'm really excited about this," she said while embracing supporters outside Bethel, the huge church in West Baltimore where she worships and whose parishioners helped her impressive, grass-roots campaign in 1995.

Pratt, 46, is offering her candidacy as an opportunity for "new leadership," saying Schaefer, 76, should remain a retired statesman after four terms as Baltimore's mayor and eight years as Maryland's governor.

"I've been talking to people and the feedback we're getting is there are people who feel Schaefer has had his time," Pratt said. "People want to see someone new."

Schaefer taped a television interview and breakfasted at Jimmy's Restaurant, his favorite spot in Fells Point, where he received a standing ovation. He spent the rest of the day with his longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, whose health is failing.

The former governor also was preparing for a full day today, starting with his 7: 30 a.m. kickoff rally at the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center.

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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