Now playing: `A Streetcar Named Endorse'

August 25, 2002|By C. Fraser Smith

HEREWITH A campaign day playlet in two acts.

The Plot: With the help of two Democratic Party stars, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman hopes for help in her re-election campaign, but finds herself upstaged.

The players: Ms. Hoffman, William Donald Schaefer, former mayor, former governor and incumbent comptroller who, at 80, wants one more run (at least); Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, faltering candidate for governor; Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg.

The scenes or, in this case, trolley stops: A hospital, a day care center, a barber shop and a housing assistance center.

ACT I

Mr. Schaefer arrives first at the Sinai Hospital stop. He climbs out of his car to be greeted instantly by Kymberli Wargowski, an executive secretary in the hospital's pathology department. She rushes to see him.

"I met you when we cut a ribbon at the Enoch Pratt Library branch in Highlandtown," she says. She was about 4 years old then. Mr. Schaefer beams.

"I just love that man," she says as he moves away. "I always vote for him."

Who'll she vote for this year in the race for governor.

"Him," she says.

But he's not running for governor.

"Who's running?"

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's running ...

"Oh, I'll vote for her."

Senator Hoffman and Ms. Townsend arrive finally in a red and green trolley-like conveyance. They set off on a walking tour of facilities in which mothers and their babies get needed prenatal treatment and a Democratic program called "Step," which provides data processing skills that allow workers to move into jobs that pay enough to support a family. One man, Ms. Townsend says, gave up two of his three jobs after Step training and a promotion and had more time to spend with his children.

"Who initiated this program?" asks Cheerleader Schaefer, knowing full well.

"I'm getting to that," says the senator. She did, of course.

ACT II

At the bustling Park Heights Barber Shop, 5114 Park Heights Ave., Master Barber Johnny Clinton presides.

Mr. Schaefer meets a man who says he's been in that same barber shop to greet Mr. Schaefer every four years for a generation. They talk about how old they are.

"I'm older than you," the man says.

"Nobody's older than me but God," Mr. Schaefer says. "When were you born?" 1913, the man says. 1910, Mr. Schaefer shoots back, a canny politician making himself 13 years older than he really is, 80. They both laugh.

Then a customer, anxious to quiz the candidate for governor, asks for quiet.

Black and other minority group voters are important in this election, the man says. But why should they vote Democratic? The blocks outside on Park Heights Avenue are poorer now than when the Glendening-Townsend administration took over.

In a tightly packed circle between the mirrored walls and the barber chairs, Ms. Townsend relies on her basic campaign speech: She has a tradition of helping Baltimore ... Some city schools are doing better ... She wants to help with business loans.

Unsatisfied, the man asks how specifically she would provide access to business loans.

"There's a small business development center," she says. I can get you the phone numbers. If it's appropriate you'll get the support. I have a list. I don't have it with me today ..."

She had been empathetic with a former drug user moments before, but the rote speech and the missing phone list suggest she wasn't prepared.

If Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski ever allowed herself to be in such a situation, if her staff didn't have the list to hand her, somebody -- maybe everybody -- on the staff would be incinerated.

It doesn't get easier.

Ms. Townsend has to explain how she'll navigate the sharp currents of Ms. Hoffman's intra-party fight for re-election. Ms. Townsend's senior adviser, state Sen. Clarence W. Blount, has endorsed Del. Lisa Gladden, Senator Hoffman's 41st District opponent.

How does the gubernatorial candidate handle it?

"I shake hands. I smile. I work with the person I'm standing with," she says .

"We don't endorse down," says a Townsend aide. Her decision to stay out of the Hoffman-Gladden fight seems understandable, but the explanations seem cold even in 90-degree August heat.

Colder still when you know the lieutenant governor desperately wants Mr. Schaefer to endorse her. He will, though his aides are angry that some Townsend volunteers have been handing out campaign literature for John T. Willis, the secretary of state who's running against Mr. Schaefer.

C. Fraser Smith is an editorial writer for The Sun. His column appears Sundays.

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