People get excited over all kinds of things in Baltimore.
But yesterday's election didn't seem to be one of them.
"Why is it," asked Curtis Bay election judge Rita Lamke yesterday, "that everybody comes out for a mugging or a fire, but when it comes to voting, nobody comes out? Tuesday night, there was a fire on Benhill Avenue and 12:30 at night everybody was out watching like it was the middle of the afternoon. But you don't see them come out to vote."
Helping to preside over the polls in the 19th Precinct of the city's 25th Ward just off Curtis Avenue on the far southern tip of the city, Ms. Lamke predicted a 30 percent turnout for the neighborhood.
That would be considered a success and is in line with the turnout in other parts of the city, as yesterday's primary saw one of the lowest turnouts in the last 20 years.
Said one poll worker: "If we have two people voting at one time and two people waiting, it's a rush."
People who stayed away couldn't blame it on the weather. It was beautiful yesterday, clear, mild and sunny, a perfect day to walk down to the corner and participate in the democratic process.
In between serving up meatball subs and coffee at his Little Italy sandwich shop, Marion Mugavero did just that, casting his vote at St. Leo's around the corner.
"I have to vote," Mr. Mugavero said. "It's my privilege to vote."
It is a privilege still novel to Revekka Menis, 67, a Soviet immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 1986.
"It is very important for all of us to vote," she said after voting at Pimlico Middle School. "Every time I come to vote, it's like it is still something new to me."
New perhaps to Ms. Menis, but old hat for Hollie Houston, 70, who spent part of the afternoon sitting on a pair of steps in the 1300 block of Hanover Street. "I don't care," Mr. Houston said. "People just do what they want to do. I wasn't studying about the election this time."
His friend Thomas Shorts, 49, said he hasn't voted since Ronald Reagan whipped Jimmy Carter in 1980. "I just don't vote anymore," said Mr. Shorts, saying part of the reason was his blindness. "I'm disabled, and as long as the politicians don't mess with my benefits, I'm doing all right."
The apathy was spread throughout the city, among citizens and candidates alike.
"The inactivity is unbelievable. In 25 years of working the polls, I have never seen such apathy. There is a real lack of interest, not among the people but on the part of the candidates. They really didn't participate in the electoral process," said Stanley Landsman, a member of the Trenton Democratic Club who lives in California but returned to Baltimore to work the election. "Nobody debated the issues and nobody wants to step on the toes. This is has been a real injustice to the people."
Vivian Zarachowicz of Fells Point fought back with a protest vote for Bill Swisher for mayor.
"[Mayor Kurt L.] Schmoke messed up on education and 'Du' [Clarence H. Burns] didn't make any great changes when he was in," said Ms. Zarachowicz. "So I'm giving Swisher a chance from process of elimination."
So why don't more people vote, even if only to put their anger on the record?
"People think it's their civic duty not to vote," said George Figgs, who daily gauges the pulse of the electorate behind the wheel of his cab. "There's an idea out there that it's already decided anyway. They bad mouth everybody who's running."
Here are turnout figures for Baltimore municipal elections since 1971:
.. .. ...Eligible
Year.. ..voters.. .. Turnout
1971.. ..419,791.. .. .. 45%
1975.. ..371,017.. .. .. 32%
1979.. ..375,035.. .. .. 31%
1983.. ..404,629.. .. .. 60%
1987.. ..387,962.. .. .. 42%
1991.. ..324,796.. .. ..*35%