City Republicans need a hero to inspire rebirth

August 22, 1999

TEDDY McKeldin, where are you when you're needed? Yes, the Republican Party in Baltimore City -- what's left of it, anyway -- could use a magnetic personality like the late two-term mayor and two-term governor.

These are sad times for the city GOP. It scrambles each election to find enough Republicans willing to work as polling-place judges. Just getting respectable candidates to file for City Council and mayor is a moral victory.

Yet this is the year when a really good Republican mayoral candidate could have a legitimate shot. If the current three-way fight in the Democratic primary leads to blood-letting and ill will, many Democrats might seek an alternative in November.

But the GOP isn't giving voters much help. One leading candidate, Carl Adair, is an old party warhorse who hasn't been active in the GOP for over a decade. He's raised $105. The other major figure is David Tufaro, a political neophyte and local housing developer whose campaign lacks detailed specifics and focus.

Mr. Tufaro is pouring more money into his campaign (he's raised nearly $30,000 -- most from himself and family) than any Republican mayoral candidate in years. He's running radio commercials in the primary campaign, too.

Yet he is hopelessly over his head. He needs seasoning and a better grasp of what it takes to run an effective campaign for mayor.

He's likely to win the Republican nomination, though. And that's the rub: If he's the best city Republicans can offer in 1999, no one should float the absurd notion that the November mayoral election will be competitive.

Registration figures illustrate the GOP's city predicament. There are 244,000 Baltimore Democrats versus 28,000 Republicans.

True, the yawning gap has narrowed this decade from about 11.5-1 to less than 9-1. If Republicans and independent voters are combined, the gap is less than 6-1.

But this remains an unbridgable gap.

More encouraging is the tendency of one-fifth of new city voters to register as Republicans. Among new voters who are white, Republicans gain one out of three.

Over the years, the city Republican Party has become a reverse-image of Baltimore. While the city is roughly 70 percent black, the city GOP is 70 percent white. Most of the black city Republicans are older citizens who are dwindling in number. They aren't being replaced by young black Republicans.

Most city Republicans can be found in affluent communities of northern Baltimore. They tend to be college-educated and over the age of 55. One ray of hope is that younger couples moving into the city often register as Republicans.

Still, the outlook for this year -- and for the immediate future -- is not uplifting. There is only one Republican running for City Council with a realistic longshot -- Robert N. Santoni Sr. in the First District. He's got money, his faily name is familiar in East Baltimore and he's backed by some influential Democratic businessmen. The incumbents are not an especially distinguished bunch, either.

But he's the exception. If city politicians ever agree to create single-member City Council districts -- a sensible move that incumbents probably will fight to the death -- Republicans might have a fighting chance.

Short of that, what the GOP could use is another Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin -- a dynamic speaker who is willing to keep running and campaigning and spending serious money election after election. He had tenacity and persistence. So did former Rep. Helen D. Bentley in Baltimore County -- who ran three times in a heavily Democratic district, against a popular incumbent, before she emerged victorious.

Sure, it's an uphill battle for Republicans in Baltimore City. They get precious little help from the state party -- and even less from conservative Republicans who view their city brethren as pinko liberal renegades.

And yet it is the dearth of a viable Republican Party in the city that crushes state GOP hopes in races for governor, U.S. senator and president. Until the Democrats' lopsided margins in the city are reduced, Republicans will continue to experience trouble in statewide contests.

That would require a major thrust by the state GOP -- and significant investments by well-healed state Republicans -- to bolster their badly outnumbered Baltimore colleagues. It isn't likely to happen in this year's election for mayor. The biggest losers aren't the state Republicans, though. It will be the city's voters, who are left with no real choice at all come November.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

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