City residents frustrated, disappointed by lackluster election


It's not only the bargain prices on fresh fruit and vegetables that bring Jay Klein to the Waverly farmers' market each Saturday. He comes mostly to enjoy its neighborly atmosphere -- an atmosphere he says he'll miss when he sells his home and moves out of Baltimore.

But he won't miss the burden of higher property taxes, failing schools and frightening crime. And nothing that was said during this summer's campaign for city offices has made him believe things are going to get any better in the next four years.

"This is a very poor city," Mr. Klein said yesterday, pushing his daughter's baby stroller with one hand and carrying a bunch of fresh-cut sunflowers. "The powers that be can't change anything. Mayor Schmoke hasn't been able to show that he's done anything in four years. He's just treading water. In fact, things may be getting worse because his arms are getting tired."

In the final weekend before the Sept. 12 primary election, Baltimoreans like Mr. Klein reveled in the brilliant sunshine and the excitement of the summer's final neighborhood festivals. But at the mention of the summer campaigns -- in which Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke spent $1.25 million and former mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns spent more than $100,000 in an effort to unseat him -- people who were interviewed across the city turned up their noses.

"It's been a very dull campaign," said Clara Armour, a Forest Park resident. "If you didn't see the pictures on the lawns you wouldn't know there was a campaign."

Almost unanimously they said they are disappointed in the quality of the candidates and frustrated by what they saw as a lack of meaningful debate and a surfeit of empty promises.

"The campaigns have let people down because the candidates have let people down," said Jon Shorr, who has lived in Belvedere for 10 years. "It doesn't matter how slick their brochures are in discussing the issues because they haven't dealt with those issues in the last four years, so it's hard to believe them now."

Mr. Schmoke, who spent a few hours of the final Saturday morning of the campaign coloring and reading with schoolchildren at Hopkins Plaza, doesn't agree that the campaign has been a dud.

He said he tailored his own campaign to suit the attitudes of people like the Shorrs who want to meet candidates face to face. Unlike his first campaign for mayor in 1987 -- which involved a barrage of media advertisements and a heated debate with Mr. Burns, who was the incumbent -- Mr. Schmoke said this year he has toned down the hype and taken his message more directly to the city's residents by knocking on doors and attending community forums.

"We have run a real grass-roots campaign," the mayor said. "People in Baltimore want to feel more in touch with their politicians than they have in the last couple of years."

But some voters said they felt Mr. Schmoke's tactics cheated them of an opportunity to see him defend his record and view him in relation to his competition.

"It's a very frustrating experience," said Betty Newcomb, who is vice president of the Ten Hills Association in Southwest Baltimore. "I think Mayor Schmoke could have said something much more specific about how he would have tightened the ship at City Hall."

C. William Huff, an autoworker who lives on West 41st Street, also faults the mayor for running a campaign that was so low key it was almost invisible. "It's a shame," he said. "As far as a disappointing campaign goes, it's unbelievable. Mayor Schmoke is not really campaigning and the rest of them don't have the money."

"I want to see candidates speak," said Margaret G. Sherrod, a resident of East Baltimore. "I like to be able to look in their eyes to see if they really mean what they're saying. But with

out a debate, how could I do that?"

Mrs. Sherrod spent yesterday afternoon with her husband, Lowell, and her 6-year-old daughter, Utonna, at a rally in Hopkins Plaza downtown, where cheerleaders, clowns and several candidates for city office applauded the efforts of elementary school students who took time to read books over the summer.

However, as Mr. Schmoke introduced the man who he promises will invigorate Baltimore's declining public schools, Walter G. Amprey, the new school superintendent, the Sherrods said they would take no chances with their daughter.

"We're going to keep her in private school," Mrs. Sherrod said. "I want to know that when she goes to school with her lunch money, it won't be taken away. I can't listen to promises when it comes to her education."

L Campaign promises also fell on deaf ears in South Baltimore.

At the annual Riverside Park Community Fair, neighborhood residents said politicians have been good at raising the expectations of the community but bad at delivering once they are in office.

"I went to a candidate forum the other night. All the candidates were saying we need more teachers and more policemen," said Ed Catterton, 57. "But I remember a time when there were a million people in this city and now there are only 750,000. So why do we need more teachers and police for fewer people?"

"To me it just shows that candidates will say anything to win votes, even if they don't know what they're talking about," said his wife, Dotty. "So this year I just haven't been as interested in listening to them."

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