Schmoke to back Duncan's bid

Ex-mayor says his endorsement of longtime friend is not an anti-O'Malley gesture


Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he is supporting Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan for Maryland governor, an endorsement that could cut into hometown support for Mayor Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign.

Schmoke said in an interview that he is slated to appear with Duncan this afternoon at Union Baptist Church in West Baltimore, where Duncan has scheduled a stop on a daylong tour from Rockville to Annapolis to officially launch his campaign for next year's Democratic primary.

"I intend to help [Duncan] get elected," said Schmoke, who was a three-term Baltimore mayor from 1987 to 1999 and is now dean of the Howard University Law School in Washington. "I've got nothing against Martin. ... It's a pro-Duncan, not an anti-O'Malley, action on my part."

Schmoke is not the only former Baltimore mayor to back Duncan's campaign. State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer is also scheduled to appear with Duncan today and has expressed support for the Montgomery executive, Duncan campaign officials said.

Another former Baltimore mayor who is still active in politics is Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, and he is supporting O'Malley. But he played down the relevance of such endorsements.

"You know what endorsements are?" D'Alesandro said. "They bring the one vote that you exercise. How much good they do beyond that is just going to be a guess."

Still, several political observers said Schmoke's backing of Duncan is significant. Duncan is expected to gain the support of several other black leaders in Baltimore, including State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and city Comptroller Joan M. Pratt. In addition, Duncan's anti-slots position has gained him significant support among many black ministers in the city and state.

"A lot of people in the African-American community still like and respect Kurt Schmoke," said Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. "Schmoke still has a machine out there. He brings credibility to Duncan's candidacy."

With prominent black leaders - including Democrat Kweisi Mfume and Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele - expected to appear on statewide ballots for U.S. Senate next year, more black voters might head to the polls, said Matthew Crenson, a political scientist at the Johns Hopkins University.

That could benefit Duncan in O'Malley's backyard if the backing of prominent black leaders holds sway with black voters.

Duncan campaign manager Scott Arceneaux said Schmoke will help Duncan become more familiar to voters in Baltimore, where the county executive is not well known compared to O'Malley. O'Malley is also significantly ahead of Duncan in early polls.

Crenson said endorsements by politicians do not matter much unless the former elected official has a significant constituency to deliver on Election Day.

"If Schmoke had one, he's lost it, and Schaefer's is much diminished," Crenson said. "They're not heavy hitters anymore when it comes to endorsing other candidates."

C. Vernon Gray, a former Democratic Howard County councilman and a political science professor at Morgan State University, said the influence of such support will not be clear until after the election.

"It's not a matter of whether [such endorsements] can help, it's how much," Gray said. "Even if you're a past mayor, you have a residue of support and adulation. Whether that translates into support for Duncan is another matter."

Gray said Schmoke's endorsement should not come as a surprise considering the "tension-filled relationship" the former mayor had with then-City Councilman O'Malley. When O'Malley represented Northeast Baltimore on the council, he frequently sparred with the Schmoke administration, especially on public safety and housing issues.

O'Malley's campaign spokesman, Jonathan Epstein, said the mayor had no comment for this article.

Schmoke said his support of Duncan had nothing to do with his political history with O'Malley but was more about his personal and professional history with Duncan. He said he told O'Malley of his decision earlier this year when the two spoke at an Associated Black Charities event. He said the mayor called him again shortly after to inquire why Schmoke was supporting Duncan.

"In our conversation, he asked me why I was doing this, and I said I've known and worked with Duncan since he was mayor of Rockville, and he's a friend," Schmoke said. "We've worked on a lot of projects together; I feel very strongly that [Duncan] will be an outstanding governor."

Schmoke said the county executive called him about 17 years ago when Duncan was Rockville mayor and that they have been friends ever since, despite longtime geopolitical divisions between the city and the Washington suburbs.

Schmoke said he has been impressed with Duncan's work on education, environment and transportation issues.

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