City Council President Mary Pat Clarke waited for nearly four years to exact her pound of flesh for what she characterized as a humiliating defeat for her and her family at the hands of some council members.
Clarke kept a reluctant council in session last night until she got the votes necessary to regain the power to appoint committee chairmen and to make committee assignments, which she lost during a long and bitter meeting on the day of her inauguration.
"My family sat in this same council chambers that night of Dec. 10, 1987, and watched me beaten on this chair, and lied about, on a night that was supposed to be a night of celebration for them," Clarke said, her voice cracking with emotion. "I was humiliated. My family was disgraced."
Council members, who had arrived at the meeting in a spirit of healing following last week's bitter redistricting fight, seemed stunned by Clarke's vehemence and the intensity of her personal appeal.
While a few council members apparently met with Clarke over the weekend and were aware of her plan, the council as a whole was apparently taken by surprise at the president's insistence on an immediate vote last night.
Following the vote, Clarke promptly named Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, who became a key supporter for her last night, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee after Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, agreed to give up the position.
She also relieved Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, as chairman of the Land Use Committee, which hears major zoning and land development bills. She named Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, to succeed Cunningham.
Clarke named Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, D-4th, to replace Ambridge as chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee.
Ironically, it was Ambridge who, during a long and bitter meeting, mounted the attack on Clarke the night of her inauguration. At the time, Clarke wanted to appoint newly elected council members, blacks and women to committee chairmanships.
But some veteran council members, citing a tradition that senior members hold committee chairmanships, voted to take away the president's power to name chairmen and make committee assignments and give it to themselves.
Ambridge last night introduced a change in the council's rules that would restore Clarke's powers fully and called for an immediate vote. To vote on the rule change the same night it was introduced required 13 favorable votes of the 19-member council.
Some council members, sympathetic to Clarke, urged her to delay a vote until the next council meeting when only 10 votes would be necessary.
"Two wrongs don't make a right," said Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, D-5th. "I also felt humiliation that night of Dec. 10 and I feel your pain. But we need to start healing and I don't understand the urgency to vote. . . . "
But Clarke pressed for a vote, saying the issue was the empowerment of women and minorities.
The first vote was 6-6 with seven abstentions.
But Clarke refused to let the matter rest and said she was going to allow members to change their vote. She then renewed her impassioned plea for a vote.
"I went out and beat the political machines and I became the first woman council president and now I want the power back, the same power that council presidents before me enjoyed," Clarke said. "I've waited, my family has waited and I want it now and I am going to have it now.
"There can be no peace, no healing for me, for my family, for Baltimore City until this last injustice is undone," she said.
Sitting in the back of the council chambers, Clarke's husband, J. Joseph Clarke, sat with his chin resting on folded hands, looking at his wife.
Some council members, swayed by so personal an appeal, changed their votes. Others objected to it.
"If this will speed up the healing for everyone, and if you want it that badly, I change my vote," said Hall.
Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd, said he respected Clarke's intense feelings but added that intimidating members was an abuse of power.
Clarke remained one vote shy of the necessary 13 votes until Schaefer, who at first abstained and then voted yes, offered to relinquish his chairmanship to get her the 13th vote.
Through an aide, Clarke then offered Schaefer's chairmanship to DiBlasi, who became the 13th vote.
"I sided with the president on that December night and took a beating from many of my other council colleagues," DiBlasi said. "Based on the good faith that the promise just made to me will be fulfilled, I change my vote from pass to yes."
After the meeting, DiBlasi said he was named vice chairman of Budget and Appropriations in 1987 and felt he should have gotten the chairmanship then.
Schaefer said he gave up the chairmanship because "you have to give up things in order to put the house back in order." He denied that any deal was made with Clarke.
Ambridge made a point of telling reporters that he didn't seek chairmanship of the Land Use Committee, on which he formerly served as vice chairman, but that Clarke offered it to him.
Cunningham said he worked hard and with integrity as chairman of land use and didn't know why he was stripped of his power "except that it was an obvious payback." He had voted with the majority to take the power from Clarke in 1987.
Taking note of Clarke's stated desire to empower women, he said, "It's interesting in that context that she made two white males chairs of two of the most powerful committees in the council."