Fib about degree could affect campaign

This Just In...

July 16, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

CARL Stokes, who is running for mayor of Baltimore, made the following statement the other day: "I want to set the record straight and clear up any confusion. I would not want an error like this to create a misperception about me."

What misperception?

The misperception that Carl Stokes is a college graduate?

I might be wrong, but it sounds like ole Carl has stumbled across a new campaign theme: The city of Baltimore has had 12 years of an Ivy League-Rhodes Scholar Mayor and what has that gotten us? It's time, my friends, for a mayor who didn't graduate from college!

At least that's my perception of the misperception Carl Stokes said he didn't want to create.

Still, as clear and as logical the previous sentence, I could be in error.

Errors happen, you know.

Even college graduates make errors.

Sometimes even people who didn't graduate from college make errors.

Take Carl Stokes, for instance.

In 1995 and again recently, he released biographical information indicating that he had graduated from Loyola College. Campaign fliers handed out at the recent Neighborhood Congress meeting said as much.

But it's not true.

Carl Stokes never made it through Loyola. He attended the college -- motto: "Strong Truths Well Lived" -- for a couple of years (1968-1970) and left without a diploma.

"This is an error," Stokes said of his graduation claim.

Error?

That's not what I call an error.

An error is a mistake, an accident, a miscommunication. It's what shortstops and second basemen do.

It's what happens when my 6-year-old daughter knocks over her Juicy Juice and says, "Whoops."

When she knocks over her Juicy Juice and blames her brother, that's a fib.

It could easily be proven that Carl Stokes did not graduate from Loyola.

But he said it was so -- first in 1995, when he ran for City Council president, and again recently.

That's not an error.

That goes down as fib.

"I would not want an error like this to create a misperception about me," Carl Stokes said.

Translation: "I wouldn't want anyone to think that, because I told a fib, that I'm a big fibber."

I'm glad Carl Stokes cleared all this up for us, aren't you?

The way he cleared up that business about City Councilwoman Rita Church endorsing his candidacy a few weeks ago. "It's a doggone lie," Church said after Stokes listed her among supporters. "I haven't made my commitments to anyone."

That time, Stokes blamed the error on a staff member and apologized to Church.

Then there was that suspended license business. Stokes had been driving his car while suspended for a time this year because he hadn't paid a fine for running a stop sign last fall.

But, when a Sun reporter first asked him about it, Stokes brushed it off as confusion over his car insurance. Later he acknowledged the outstanding ticket and paid the fine.

Minor stuff -- a garbled explanation about a license suspension, a murky explanation about an endorsement that wasn't.

But the Loyola business -- that's a little more serious.

And it could have a lasting effect on Stokes' candidacy. Unlike his other summer blunders, it might be something voters remember in September, after the vacation season, during candidates' debates, on the way to the primary.

Stokes is a bright, likable guy with an admirable street-level sense about what Baltimore needs.

But, how stupid that Loyola fib.

You look at the guy and say: "Come on, Carl."

Think of it for a minute: When you're trying to decide who to vote for, do you check over the campaign literature for college degrees?

Maybe you do -- in fact, too many of us probably did when it came to Kurt Schmoke -- but I doubt if it's a major influence.

Stokes evidently felt self-conscious about not having a college degree. (He actually told a Sun reporter this year that he had a bachelor's degree in English.) But academic degrees don't matter in a mayor. Not in this town. Maybe not in any town.

Other things matter -- common sense, the power of personality, the articulation of priorities, the ability to touch people in ways that make them say: "Hey, here's someone who understands me." If, in 1999, a mayor can be said to need a degree, it should be in the simple sociology of Baltimore neighborhoods, or in the science of biracial politics. A mayor should double-major in constituent service and big-picture vision.

A B.A. in English from Loyola?

Nice but not necessary, Mr. Stokes.

All that fib got you was trouble.

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