Baltimore is buying two late-model Lincoln Town Cars to be used for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's official travel -- at a cost to the city of a little under $50,000.
The cars will replace the lone 1989 Lincoln the mayor currently uses, which has 55,000 miles on the odometer and mounting maintenance problems, Mr. Schmoke and other officials said.
Mr. Schmoke defended the purchase of the luxury cars, saying that the city's mayors have traditionally had two cars and that his security detail recommended he have two vehicles exclusively assigned to him for safety reasons.
The mayor laughed when asked if he needed two new cars
because he would be putting on extra miles traveling around the state if he ran for governor in 1994 -- a race he said last week he was contemplating.
"That's one I hadn't thought of," he said.
"If I decide to become a candidate for governor, the campaign expenses will be charged to the campaign, not the city," he said.
Mr. Schmoke said he decided several months ago that when his 1989 Lincoln "started showing signs of maintenance problems, we would go ahead and return to the tradition" of having two cars for the mayor.
But the head of at least one group of city workers, most of whom have gone without raises during difficult financial times, questioned why the mayor would need two new cars instead of just one.
"I certainly think he does need reliable transportation. But my people aren't buying two of anything. Maybe he needs to buy one new car and leave it at that," said Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.
City officials say the cost of the two Lincolns -- which are to be 1992 or 1993 "executive" or "program" cars that have been driven but have low mileage on them -- will be around $60,000. But they expect to recoup $9,000 in trade-in on the mayor's 1989 Lincoln and hope to get another $5,000 from a 1988 Ford LTD that is also being traded in.
The city is buying the cars through Al Packer Lincoln Mercury on Belair Road.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price for a new Lincoln Town Car is between $35,000 and $40,000, depending on how it is equipped, according to several area dealers.
For the past two years, Mr. Schmoke has had just one official car. When that car needed servicing, he would be given another car from the city's 620-car passenger fleet.
But Lt. Hezekiah Bunch, head of the mayor's security detail, said those cars are not as safe for the mayor to travel in as cars that are specifically assigned to them.
Protective devices he declined to specify are added to the mayor's cars but are not included in cars taken from the motor pool, he said.
Also, he said, "It's a lot better to deal with cars that you know than to keep getting different cars from the motor pool" that might not be as well maintained.
George Balog, director of the Department of Public Works, which oversees the city's vehicles, said having two cars would allow them to be rotated on an almost daily basis, resulting in better maintenance.
The mayor's 1989 Lincoln needs to be replaced, he said, because "It's got 55,000 miles on it -- those are 55,000 hard miles, not road miles but stopping and going."
Four years ago, the city purchased two Lincolns for Mr. Schmoke, including the 1989 model he now uses. But in 1991, after his practice of keeping two Lincolns was criticized by campaign opponents, Mr. Schmoke decided that, "Rather than having my time devoted to discussing the merits of the cars, I simply said, 'We will get rid of one of the cars.' "
Since then, "We've had a lot of problems just having the one vehicle," Mr. Schmoke said.
A little over a year ago, then newly elected Comptroller Jacqueline McLean drew fire when she ordered a new $20,000 Mercury Grand Marquis through the city.