On the day the City Council took its first vote on a new councilmanic redistricting plan, Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, made a comment that is likely to haunt him on primary election day.
After looking at a map showing the new boundaries of the 1st, Mr. Schaefer said: "This district is so big, I'll need a helicopter to get from one end of it to the other."
Mr. Schaefer's comment alienated many 3rd District residents who were shifted to the 1st because of redistricting. During the council's debate over the new council district maps, much of the attention was focused on the majority white 3rd and 6th districts. Proponents of the redistricting plan hoped to increase the chances of electing black council members in these districts by creating black majorities.
Meanwhile, the 1st remains a majority white district with more new residents than either the 3rd or the 6th. More than 40 percent of the people now living in the 1st were part of other districts before redistricting and new voters hold no allegiance to either Mr. Schaefer or Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro.
Many new 1st District voters are disgruntled because they now live in a district where they lack historic and political ties. They are angry at Mr. Schaefer and Mr. DiPietro because they did not consistently vote against redistricting. Mr. Schaefer, 63, has represented the 1st District for 20 years and Mr. DiPietro, 86, has represented the district for 25 years.
Meanwhile, the other incumbent Democrat, first-term Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., 33, opposed the new redistricting plan through the council's final vote. His firm opposition could well be rewarded by the Democratic voters in the new areas of the district.
"Walking through the neighborhood door-to-door and talking with the people, I can tell you there is not much support for Mr. Schaefer and Mr. DiPietro down here," said Joyce Bauerle, president of the Locust Point Civic Association. While the hearts and minds of many Locust Point residents remain in the 6th District, they must vote in the new 1st.
Mr. Schaefer said he and Mr. DiPietro voted "yes" during the final action on the plan because it was the price they had to pay to get most of the Belair-Edison community back into the 1st.
"Mimi and I passed on the earlier voting because we knew that the 10 votes were there to approve the plan and we didn't want to send the message to the voters of the new areas that were coming into the district that we didn't want them," Mr. Schaefer said.
But the people in the HARBEL community, which has been part of the 3rd District as long as there has been a 3rd, haven't accepted Mr. Schaefer's explanation.
"Schaefer and DiPietro rolled over and played dead rather than fight the plan," said Dennis King, an attorney and HARBEL resident. If they had consistently voted no, that would have shown us they really cared about our desire to stay in the 3rd."
Many voters in the HARBEL area won't forget Mr. Schaefer's helicopter comment when they go to the polls on Sept. 12, primary election day, Mr. King predicted.
Meanwhile, Mr. D'Adamo and several challengers have capitalized on the anger directed at Mr. Schaefer and Mr. DiPietro. Challenger Perry Sfikas said the discord in the new areas of the district has added momentum to his campaign.
"The old 1st has been the playing ground for Schaefer and DiPietro for over 20 years, but the new areas are up for grabs," Mr. Sfikas said.
It has also been a boon for Mr. D'Adamo. Mr. Schaefer and Mr. DiPietro decided last year not to team up with D'Adamo and picked up Joseph R. Ratajczak, 57, a state Department of Transportation employee and former council aide to Mr. Schaefer.
"Nick isn't a team player in the district and he doesn't do constituent work which leaves it all on Mimi and I," Mr. Schaefer asserted.
Mr. D'Adamo said he handles hundreds of constituent problems from his district office at Shockets, the Highlandtown discount store which he manages.
"I think the people view me as an independent voice and still regard me as new when they talk about the need for new blood representing the district," Mr. D'Adamo said.
Mr. D'Adamo, who ran an independent campaign in 1987 and won by less than 200 votes, began campaigning in the new areas right after redistricting. Ms. Bauerle and Mr. King predicted that Mr. D'Adamo and Mr. Sfikas would be the top vote getters in south Baltimore's Locust Point and HARBEL, the corridor between Harford and Belair roads in the northeast part of the city.
Mr. Sfikas, on leave as an aide to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., began preparing for the council race two years ago. He has put together a formidable organization and raised more than $50,000, much of it from the tight-knit Greek community.
NTC A community activist in the 1st, Mr. Sfikas has been endorsed by Ms. Mikulski and U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md. He is also receiving help in the HARBEL area from Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, who is very popular in that community. Mr. Landers is a candidate in the city comptroller's race.
"Pothole politics worked very well for years down here in the 1st and Schaefer and DiPietro are very good at it," Mr. Sfikas said. "But with the problems facing the city at large and the district in particular becoming so complex, you need council members who can come up with the creative approaches to deal with them."
Mr. Schaefer disagreed. Recently, he piled stacks of constituent calls that came in during the last four years on his City Hall desk.
"Any council member who relegates constituent work to a secondary nature is hurting the district they represent," Mr. Schaefer said, adding that he and DiPietro owe their political longevity to good constituent services.
During a recent campaign swing through the John Booth Senior Citizens Center in Highlandtown, Mr. Schaefer and Mr. DiPietro came upon Eulalia "Pete" Pereira who lives in a small portion of the Belair-Edison community that was not returned to the 1st District.
"Mimi and John did a great job for our neighborhood," she said. "Whenever we needed them, they were there."
Outside the "old 1st" pothole politics may not be enough to satisfy the constituents.
"We've been used to representatives who can look at the more global picture," Mr. King said, adding: "The people here just don't think Schaefer and DiPietro fit in to that kind of representation."
Mr. Ratajczak is the only candidate of the Schaefer-DiPietro team who has spent much time in the area, Mr. King said.
Mr. Ratajczak, a member of the local Democratic State Central Committee, ran an independent campaign against Mr. Schaefer
and Mr. DiPietro in 1987. He finished sixth in the race.
"I've been like a volunteer councilman for over 30 years serving the district," Mr. Ratajczak said. "Now, I'd like to officially represent the district from City Hall." If elected to the council, Mr. Ratajczak said he would quit his state job and serve as a full-time councilman.
John Cain decided to take a leave from his job as editor of the East Baltimore Guide, a community newspaper, to run for the council because "the district needs a representative from the communities."
Mr. Cain has been active in the Waterfront Coalition, an organization of community groups concerned about development along the district's harbor line.
"Other special interest groups are represented by our council members but the communities need a voice there as well," Mr. Cain. Low on campaign funds and lacking organization, Mr. Cain's campaign is waging an uphill battle.
Other candidates in the 1st District campaign include James Potter, an engineering designer who lives in the HARBEL area, Richard Anthony Ingrao, an attorney from Little Italy, Kimberly Letke, who runs a private security firm, Charles J. Morgan Jr. a real estate salesman from South Baltimore and Janet DeSantis.
On the Republican ledger, there is no primary opposition for Joseph DiPasquale, Leo Wayne Dymowski and James H. Styles Jr.