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'Debaters' in mayoral campaign take a walk Some leave before questions. Schmoke doesn't come at all.


Enzo Blanks came to the League of Women Voters mayoral candidate forum last night determined to make a point, whether the Democratic front-runners showed up or not.

Blanks, a former bookstore clerk on The Block, was upset that former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns has received campaign contributions from businesses in Baltimore's red-light district.

"I don't like Du Burns' view of The Block, and I want to let him know about it," Blanks said. "I think The Block should be eliminated." Blanks got lucky. Burns made a brief appearance last night, even though he had said he would come to the forum only if Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke did.

Burns made a two-minute speech and left the forum before questions came from a panel of reporters. "I had 30 or 40 phone calls today," Burns said. "All the people were saying I should come. So I did. But those people who were telling me to come didn't come themselves."

Former State's Attorney William A. Swisher spoke briefly and also left before any questions were fired his way. Swisher, now calling himself a "pro Second-Amendment" candidate because of his support for gun owners, did take time to slam Schmoke for not appearing at the forum. "I guess he didn't come because there is nothing he can debate," Swisher said. "He hasn't done anything. What would he say?"

Fewer than 40 people came to the Poly-Western school auditorium for last night's forum. And the main reason for the tiny crowd was Schmoke's no-show.

Schmoke -- who one poll showed last week with a 25-point lead -- said he skipped the debate because he did not want to accommodate Burns' campaign strategy. Moreover, he said, he has been at dozens of forums with all the mayoral contenders throughout the summer.

The Democratic primary is a week from today.

Anne Gresser, president of the League of Women Voters, said she was disappointed by the turnout. "I attribute this to the fact that the principal candidates for two days have been saying they're not going to be here," Gresser said.

Among those who showed, Ronald Williams, a Democrat who is unemployed, has an intriguing platform: He wants to eliminate property taxes, offer city residents $2,000 annual stipends and house the homeless. He also says he doesn't think the city is losing population, despite three consecutive census counts that say otherwise.

Williams was not the only candidate among last night's 11 participants offering exotic political fare. Republican candidate Dan Hiegel, who admits to being under 50, said that if he is elected mayor he will fire every department head and hire people who are older than 50.

Fellow Republican Joseph A. Scalia said the city needs to return some of the 6,000 vacant properties in the city to the tax rolls.

GOP warhorse Samuel A. Culotta joined in the chorus condemning Schmoke's decision not to come to the forum. "I believe it is political cowardice for him not to be here tonight," he said.

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