Schaefer becomes a player in mayor race

February 18, 1999|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Over breakfast at Jimmy's in Fells Point the other morning, there was Gene Raynor, former chief of the board of elections, waxing nostalgic about the good old days when his buddy William Donald Schaefer was covering every pothole, plucking up each wayward candy bar wrapper, and saving the city of Baltimore for Kurt L. Schmoke.

``You know what Schaefer used to do on weekends?'' Raynor asked. It went unsaid that there were no actual weekends for Schaefer, not in the conventional party-time, relax-the-body, brace-yourself-for-Monday weekend as it's understood by the rest of humanity.

``He'd go looking for potholes, which everybody knows, and abandoned cars,'' said Raynor. ``And he'd call his department heads and say, 'I found an abandoned car. I'm not gonna tell you where it is. But I want your people to find it and get it off the street by Monday, or heads are gonna roll.' ``

In other words, in Schaefer's time, nobody slept. The city's agencies operated on constant red alert, to the benefit of the city's citizens. Many remember those times with great fondness now, and maybe even with voting inclinations for next fall's mayoral elections, when City Hall and maybe even some municipal agencies might once again rouse themselves to wakefulness.

For at least this moment, Schaefer and some of his closest friends hope so. They met at Dalesio's in Little Italy on Tuesday evening to talk about Schaefer running for mayor again. No final decisions were made, but there are now plans for a $500-a-head breakfast fund-raiser for Schaefer in the spring, before the mayoral filing date, which makes Schaefer what he wants to be: a player.

Automatically, his potential run ties up money that might otherwise go to announced candidates. They have to cool their heels before finding out if big-money backers historically devoted to Schaefer will shake loose wayward cash, or wait for a signal that their man is back in the game.

Thus arrives the latest in an ever-changing roster of possible mayoral candidates - and a chance to examine a poll conducted in July by Herbert Smith, at Western Maryland College's Survey Research Center.

It's called the Baltimore Poll. Most politicians around the state have heard about it, and some have seen it, and many have surely been influenced by it. All poll respondents were registered Baltimore City Democrats and likely voters.

At a time when Schmoke was still pondering a fourth mayoral campaign, the poll showed him with only 45 percent favorability - and 35 percent unfavorability.

``The most popular citywide official,'' poll authors noted, ``is City Council President Lawrence Bell, with a 3 to 1 favorable mentions to unfavorables (49-14 percent). For Schmoke, these results should be something of a 'wake up call.' The general political wisdom is that incumbents need a favorability score of over 50 percent and favorability ratio of 2 to 1 or better to secure a comfortable re-election. Mayor Schmoke has neither.''

Weeks later, the mayor announced he did not wish to run for a fourth term.

The poll did not ask respondents about Carl Stokes, the former councilman and school board member who's running. But there are fascinating numbers about a few others who have talked about running: State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.

The most remarkable Jessamy number: 65 percent of those polled didn't know who she was. This, in an office whose previous occupants Milton Allen, Bill Swisher and Schmoke were virtual household names.

Unfortunately for Jessamy, that low recognition figure has surely gone up, in the wake of awful stories about criminal suspects released because of trial delays, and other courthouse confusion.

As for Henson, there's been talk for the past year about the housing commissioner launching a mayoral campaign. But such talk died not long after the poll's staggering numbers on Henson: only 11 percent favorability among all voters, including 19 percent favorable among black women and 12 percent among black men; and 4 percent favorable among white men and 6 percent among white women. And only 48 percent name recognition.

Henson's numbers were even lower than those for the indicted former state Sen. Larry Young, who is still seen favorably by 17 percent of the electorate.

All of which leaves us with the current, fluctuating slate of those who may run for mayor. Will Schaefer run?

``It's the only job he ever loved,'' Gene Raynor was saying as he finished breakfast at Jimmy's in Fells Point. ``At this point, I don't think even Schaefer knows. But it gives everybody something to think about.''

The belief here is that Schaefer's a long shot to run. But, for the record, that Baltimore poll gave him 62 percent favorable - and only 15 percent unfavorable.

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