Win or lose, city GOP faces tough demands

Challenge: Hard work, long-term organizing must follow if new leadership wants to triumph.

October 31, 1999

THE RESULTS will not be in for another two days, but Baltimore's tiny Republican Party has already won in the city's general election. For the first time in decades, it fielded candidates who campaigned hard and could not be ignored by Democrats.

The challenge now is for the party's strongest contenders -- mayoral hopeful David F. Tufaro and council candidates Robert N. Santoni Sr. and Joseph Brown Jr., to stay the course, regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, and continue their activism in civic affairs. Otherwise, the seeming resurgence of the long-dormant city GOP is just a mirage.

With voter registration favoring Democrats 9-1, Baltimore voters have not elected a Republican to the City Council in 60 years. The last GOP mayor was elected 36 years ago.

Since then, party activists have mostly concentrated on trying to prevent some oddball from winning nomination and discrediting the Republican cause.

The nomination of Mr. Tufaro this year marked a watershed. The New York-born, Yale-educated, 52-year-old millionaire developer gave the city GOP its first viable candidate for mayor in decades. He campaigned seriously and issued comprehensive position papers. Yet he was seen as an outsider by much of the city's indigenous GOP establishment -- aging moderates such as former Delegates Samuel A. Culotta and Samuel Hopkins -- who actually seemed to resent his temerity in running without their blessing.

Mr. Tufaro was not fully embraced by many young Republican activists, either. More conservative than he, they were suspicious of his stands on conservative litmus-test issues. Mr. Tufaro, after all, is pro-choice, against the death penalty and against zero tolerance in policing.

In the end, Mr. Tufaro was not bogged down by any of this. Since he did not belong to either of those factions, he bypassed internecine ideological considerations and took his issues to the wider electorate. He was well-received. The strongest GOP City Council candidates similarly were able to skirt ideological divisions and go after the Democratic crossover vote.

After the election, fights over the party's creed could ignite, if a leadership vacuum develops. That's why we hope that Mr. Tufaro, Mr. Brown and Mr. Santoni will continue as active spokesmen for pragmatic Republican policies and solutions in Baltimore, regardless of the election outcome.

Baltimore Republicans may have started a comeback in this campaign. But if the party wants long-term success, it has to embark on a systematic rebuilding program that goes far beyond Tuesday's election. It will have to start recruiting more African-Americans into its ranks.

It has to heighten overall organizing and recognize that a real turnaround will take years of hard work and painstaking preparation.

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