Schmoke accepts invitation to debate Culotta GOP candidate to try to lure Burns' voters


Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who dodged all comers during his summerlong campaign for the Democratic mayoral nomination, yesterday agreed to debate Republican challenger Samuel A. Culotta sometime before the Nov. 5 general election.

"We don't have a date, but yes [the mayor] has agreed to debate him," said Clinton R. Coleman Jr., the mayor's spokesman.

Mr. Culotta, who said he would try to arrange a debate by early October, said he would use the debate to encourage the more than 45,000 Democrats who voted against Mr. Schmoke in the primary to switch parties and vote him into office.

"I'm sending out a welcome to the people who were around 'Du' Burns to join with me," said Mr. Culotta.

During his campaign for nomination, Mr. Schmoke steadfastly refused to participate in a debate unless all eight Democratic candidates, some who were considered fringe candidates, were invited.

Critics of the mayor said those conditions were thrown up by Mr. Schmoke as a ruse to avoid having to again debate former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns, whose attacking style during a debate four years earlier helped revive a moribund campaign.

Mr. Culotta, 67, has been the Republican mayoral nominee in every election since 1975, losing each time. Earlier this month, he only needed 1,532 votes to win the Republican nomination.

Mr. Schmoke garnered more than 61,000 votes to win the Democratic nomination. The mayor also has a decided advantage because Democrats outnumber Republicans in Baltimore by a 9-to-1 margin.

Mr. Culotta's supporters say he has a legitimate chance this time because voters have seen what Mr. Schmoke can do and have not been pleased.

Mr. Culotta says he believes he can score points in a debate by attacking Mr. Schmoke's handling of the school department -- there have been three school superintendents in less than four years -- and by portraying the one-term incumbent as a weak and indecisive administrator who has allowed the city to drift.

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