Gibson's election remarks disputed Strategist says Curry, Schmoke clinched win for Glendening

Senate leader skeptical

November 09, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

After working hard to end Gov. Parris N. Glendening's career during the Democratic primary this year, Baltimore political strategist Larry S. Gibson now claims he and his allies averted a disaster for Glendening in the general election.

Endorsements that Gibson brought Glendening at a critical moment from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry put the governor in position to win, Gibson says.

"Mayor Schmoke and Wayne Curry closed the loop of Democratic Party unity," Gibson said in an interview last week.

The assertion was immediately challenged by some Glendening supporters.

"If Wayne and Kurt didn't overtly sabotage the campaign they did very little to assist it," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "Lending their names in the last couple of weeks obviously helped, but they could have been on board a lot sooner."

The disparity between these two versions of Glendening's smashing victory last Tuesday underscores post-election tensions between the governor and the state's top two elected black leaders, Schmoke and Curry.

While neither Gibson nor a Glendening spokeswoman would acknowledge that these tensions could result in problems for Baltimore or Prince George's County in Annapolis, others are less certain.

Miller said he was sure the residents of Baltimore and Prince George's County would be punished. He said the principals -- Gibson, Curry and Schmoke -- could find "a bitter aftermath" to the election of 1998.

Schmoke and Curry were not available for comment, and a Schmoke spokesman referred questions to Gibson. Schmoke and Curry have long-standing political and personal ties to Gibson, a lawyer and University of Maryland law school professor who has been running campaigns in Baltimore and elsewhere for 30 years.

Gibson said he was aware that some Democrats were exultant that his aura as the supreme deliverer of black votes appeared to have been damaged when Glendening and his team won without him.

But Gibson maintained the Curry-Schmoke endorsement was pursued most vigorously by the Glendening campaign -- a contention that Glendening campaign manager Karen White did not dispute.

Until their mostly-symbolic backing arrived, Glendening was getting 75 percent of black support in polls conducted for The Sun and other news organizations. In the following days, his standing among black voters grew steadily and reached 90 percent by Election Day.

In addition to the endorsement, Gibson said, getting President Clinton to visit a black Baltimore church two days before the vote was a critical moment in the campaign -- one that Curry and Schmoke helped make possible.

The president enjoys near universal support from blacks, polls have shown.

"Black folks were not going to vote for someone who snubbed the president," Gibson said. "He wouldn't have gotten re-elected if he hadn't righted himself with Clinton."

And, indeed, Glendening got 90 percent of the black vote. White agreed that the limited campaigning offered by Schmoke had been valuable and welcome.

Others were less conciliatory.

Said Joel Rozner, Glendening's former chief of staff who now lobbies in Annapolis: "The Larry Gibson myth is clearly over. This campaign proved that to win in Baltimore City you don't have to have Larry Gibson on the team."

A state Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity said, "It was sweet to get the vote out without him."

Gibson did not disagree. "I've always resented the notion that the black vote can be delivered by one person or group," he said.

After the endorsements by Curry and Schmoke, he met with Glendening organizers in Baltimore to see if there was anything he could do in the campaign's remaining weeks.

"Usually I move in and take charge," he said. "But it was not necessary. They had good people. I was not going to supplant people they had in place, a lot of whom were friends of mine. It wouldn't have been right."

Though eager to be a part of what turned out to be a Democratic triumph, Gibson said he did not wish to take anything from those who were with Glendening from the start. And he was particularly glowing in his praise of the Baltimore group called BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development).

"People in BUILD should be congratulated for getting out and hustling. You win elections by hustling. By putting up more signs. By shaking more hands. There is no magic wand," he said.

And he said he did not wish to overstate his own contribution. "We had a national phenomenon," he said. "What occurred here was part of a national thing that involved an outpouring of support for the president."

But he, Curry and Schmoke did make their contributions, he said. They joined Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in an effort to persuade the president to make a dramatic get-out-the-vote visit to Maryland on the Sunday before Tuesday's election. After that visit to New Psalmist Baptist Church in West Baltimore, blacks turned out in large numbers for a nonpresidential election year.

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