Against the Odds

David Tufaro, Republican candidate, looks at his chances in the Baltimore mayoral race and pushes ahead anyway. Issues besides winning and losing are what concern him.


For three minutes, David Tufaro is a candidate with a television camera to call his own, free to say whatever he wants to say. No questions asked, literally. A dream come true for a politician -- especially one who's still fuming that he wasn't part of the televised debate.

So why does he look so pained?

With nervous, darting eyes, Tufaro stumbles through his script, even though it's full of the phrases he's mouthed many times in his bid to become Baltimore's first Republican mayor in decades.

"Cannot sit on the sidelines" "I share your outrage" "Will not be tied to special interests." And, perhaps underscoring the speech, if not his entire campaign: "Not a professional politician."

Take One. "It looked like he didn't even practice it," mutters a worker in the control booth. (Actually, he did.)

Take Two. "Try to relax," says Tufaro's campaign manager, veteran Republican operative Carol Hirschburg. (She's annoyed that there's no TelePrompTer, that they're fumbling with homemade cue cards.)

Take Three. "We can do one more," says Coles Ruff, director of government relations for TCI, the city cable company. (He'd said the same thing after Take Two.)

Take Four. "That's great, that was the best one," says Ruff.

Yes, this time Tufaro gets his message down on tape for later viewing on a cable public affairs program. At one point he says, "There are two important issues you won't hear the Democratic candidates talking about: reducing property taxes and improving the delivery of city services by introducing market competition."

The tax cut, he says, should be instituted "instead of subsidizing politically well-connected people who build downtown hotels." Then, the final dig: "One party, the Democrats, has ruled the city for the last 30 years. With ample opportunity to stem Baltimore's decline, they have failed miserably."

Tufaro steps away from the soundstage, relieved.

"That's not my cup of tea, frankly," he says. "I'm not as comfortable as I am in a more extemporaneous situation. But it's part of the whole thing."

By "the whole thing," he means running for mayor. For Tufaro -- lawyer, developer, community leader, but until now never a candidate -- it also means running his maiden race for the city's highest office.

And it means running as the chosen candidate of Baltimore's GOP establishment -- in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 9 to 1, and no Republican has been elected mayor in more than 30 years.

Tufaro, 52, knows that politics is a sometimes unseemly blend of issues, personality and showmanship. Truth is, he's known this since he was a little boy.

He opens his wallet and pulls out a dog-eared snapshot from his 1950s childhood. There, imbued with the time-capsule quality of black-and-white photography: 5-year-old David, his older brothers, his sister, his mother and father.

And, with his hand on young David's shoulder, an acquaintance named Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Tufaro treasures the picture with one of the GOP's great icons. But, perhaps surprisingly, not so much for the brush-with-greatness value, which he dismisses as just "a nice little touch."

Better, to him, it is one of the few early photos of his family -- and a reminder of the immigrant parents who shaped his approach to politics and public affairs.

Tufaro's father was a concrete mason who helped build the Empire State Building and a homebuilder whose fortunes rose and fell with economic cycles. After working on Fiorello LaGuardia's campaign for mayor in New York, he ran the Commonwealth Club, a service organization and political club in the Bronx.

He lobbied for laws affecting home builders and home buyers. And when he traveled to New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller's inaugurations and other Republican affairs, his children came too.

Young David admired his father's outspokenness. At the same time, he never cared much for the spectacle of the political event.

"It was fun to meet (Eisenhower), and I look back fondly on the experience," Tufaro says. But he adds, "In a sense, I was almost turned off to politics because there's a part I don't like. People become energized by being around people that they recognize, as opposed to the substance."

Maybe that's why Tufaro (pronounced two-FAR-oh, a campaign sign reading "2-4-0" notwithstanding) has spent so many years dealing with government from the outside as a lawyer and a developer, and as a community activist.

Educated in New York public schools, he became a Yale man and went on to Penn to earn a joint degree in law and urban planning. He came to Baltimore to work for Piper & Marbury because the firm was doing legal work in the emerging, planned community of Columbia.

Then he became a developer, first with Oxford Development Corp., working on projects such as Sharp Leadenhall Courts, a subsidized housing complex in South Baltimore, and the Foxwell Memorial Apartments for the deaf.

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