Car's sale to help budget, Schmoke's office says


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's decision to sell a Lincoln Town Car for $10,000 less than what the city paid 2 1/2 years ago had nothing to do with campaign-season accusations that he is a big spender, his spokesman said yesterday.

Rather, Mayor Schmoke, who plans to officially announce his candidacy for mayor at a campaign fund-raiser nine days from now, ordered the sale of one of the two chauffeur-driven, city-owned Lincolns assigned to him because he thought it was one way he could help to balance the city's $1.79 billion operating budget, according to spokesman Clinton R. Coleman Jr.

The mayor's car, a 1989 dark blue Lincoln Town Car that the mayor's office paid $21,936 for in November 1989, was put up for auction last week, with a minimum bid of $12,000. But the car was returned to the city garage after the highest bidder offered only $10,000.

Yesterday, Mr. Coleman denied that the decision to take a loss on the car -- which has only 17,000 miles on it -- was an effort to avoid the car's becoming a campaign issue.

"The campaign had nothing to do with it," Mr. Coleman said. "If the campaign had anything to do with it, he would have sold both of them."

Mr. Coleman also said that the mayor had become frustrated with the car's chronic breakdowns and that it had become expensive to maintain. He said the windows often do not work properly and the door locks jam, leaving the mayor fumbling with the door handle.

"It's been fixed, but it may be the door on the other side that goes next, so he decided to sell," Mr. Coleman said.

When the car was purchased in 1989, aides said that the mayor needed the additional room the Lincoln offered and that the Chevrolet Caprice it replaced just wasn't big enough. The mayor's office bought a second Lincoln three months after the first one, this one gray, for $24,196. But now, to save money, the mayor will use the remaining Lincoln as his primary official car and will use a car from the city's motor pool as a backup.

Former Baltimore State's Attorney William A. Swisher, who during his campaign has portrayed himself as an advocate for the average guy, has said the mayor's practice of keeping two Lincolns wastes money.

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