Tufaro's mayoral bid ignites GOP revival

Underdog party: Republican Party is beginning to show signs of life in Baltimore.

September 25, 1999

IT IS GOOD for Baltimore that David F. Tufaro believes he can win. By campaigning hard, issuing position papers and spending money on commercials, he has become the first Republican mayoral candidate in more than three decades to earn more than a passing glance.

Because Democrats outnumber Republicans in Baltimore nine to one, Mr. Tufaro would appear doomed in the Nov. 2 general election. Such conventional wisdom does not faze him.

Declaring he entered the race "because I can no longer stand to sit on the sidelines and watch this city continue to decline," he is taking callers' questions on talk radio, pressing the flesh at ethnic festivals and holding fund-raisers even beyond the metropolitan area.

He is even getting some help from Councilman Martin O'Malley, the seasoned politician who won the Democratic mayoral nomination by an overwhelming vote.

Unlike most Democratic candidates of the past, who ignored GOP mayoral hopefuls, Mr. O'Malley is responding to Mr. Tufaro's proposals and position papers. As a result, Baltimore could see the first real issues debate by the two parties' mayoral nominees since 1963. That was when Theodore R. McKeldin, a progressive Republican, won his second term and became the last member of the GOP to win elected office in Baltimore.

The odds against Mr. Tufaro are awesome. But he has already made a singular contribution to his city by bringing a working two-party system closer to reality.

No Republican has been elected to the 18-member City Council since 1939. In the First District, though, Robert Santoni is making a strong bid to change that.

Mr. Santoni's candidacy is likely to produce much soul-searching and deep conflicts in loyalty in the district. The East Baltimore supermarket owner is among the leaders of the Highlandtown revitalization effort. He is well-liked in the area's churches and community organizations and has worked closely and smoothly with Democratic Sen. Perry Sfikas and Richard Sandza, publisher of the Baltimore Guide.

Mr. Sfikas is unlikely to openly disown the district's three Democratic incumbents. The Guide, a free weekly that circulates throughout the district, is another matter. It seems ready to endorse Mr. Santoni, having backed only one Democratic incumbent, Lois Garey, in the primary. (All three were renominated.)

As for Mr. Santoni, he has scored a first in the annals of Baltimore GOP politics: He commissioned a poll to guide his electioneering.

Mr. Santoni's personal appeal, modern campaign methods and connections have made him GOP's brightest hope in 60 years to capture a council seat, although Republicans are running a full slate of council candidates in the Sixth.

Unlike many other political newcomers -- Democratic or Republican -- he has been preparing for his council bid for years. It is that kind of painstaking work that often produces success.

On a citywide level, though, the Republican Party faces a dilemma. Even though six African-American Republicans were elected to the City Council between 1890 and 1931, the party's support among the city's majority population today is negligible.

Much of that is due to the Republican Party's national policies, which many blacks see as not in their best interests on such issues as affirmative action and equal rights.

Baltimore's GOP must be able to change this image if it truly wants to restore its influence in the city. For Mr. Tufaro, that will be no easy task with just over five weeks until the general election.

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