State Sen. Mary H. Boergers yesterday got an up-close and personal look at the real Baltimore -- the largest city and one of the poorest jurisdictions in the state she wants to govern.
Ms. Boergers, a Democrat from affluent Montgomery County, made the pilgrimage to the city in an effort to build a relationship with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, whose support would help her candidacy for governor.
In a move uncharacteristic of executives, who tend to put the best face on their jurisdictions, Mr. Schmoke went out of his way to show her Baltimore's most difficult problems.
The mayor said at the beginning of a two-hour bus trip through East Baltimore that Ms. Boergers and her entourage of campaign aides and advisers were being given a "deliberately unusual tour."
The group found itself riding past block after block of vacant, boarded-up houses and street corner drug-dealers standing in doorways beside "No Loitering" signs.
"The next time you come to the city, we'll take you out to the Northeast and Northwest" with their "bucolic neighborhoods," Mr. Schmoke said. "We'll get you with the inner-city stuff today."
Politics was the subtext, but little was mentioned about her gubernatorial bid.
"I asked her how it was going, but she knows I'm not going to get into endorsements until later next year," Mr. Schmoke said after the two spoke privately.
"We'll talk politics later," Ms. Boergers said.
Given Ms. Boergers' General Assembly voting record on issues related to the city and comments that she has made about state aid to Baltimore, successfully courting Mr. Schmoke will be a difficult political trick.
Last year, she voted for the $500 million tax increase that brought the state budget back into balance, but she later strongly opposed a measure that stripped Montgomery County and other jurisdictions of a state subsidy that covered Social Security costs for teachers.
"This is really the beginning of the end for the city," she said of Baltimore at the time.
Ms. Boergers also voted against the $151 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center and left the mayor with the impression in April that she believes the city gets too much state money for education.
She says he misunderstood
The senator said yesterday she still believes that the state's $101 million share of the Convention Center expansion cost should have gone instead to expansion of Baltimore-Washington International Airport. But she also said that Mr. Schmoke had misunderstood her comments about school funding for the city, saying that she had meant only to indicate that "money is not the whole answer."
During the tour, which highlighted Baltimore's community-redevelopment efforts, Mr. Schmoke told the group that showing the city's successes through new developments and renovated houses was "easy." It's much harder, he said, "to build people."
He stressed the importance of city programs that require neighborhood involvement, in addition to the federal-state-city funding partnerships and investment from the private sector. The mayor pointed to the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions as East Baltimore's largest stabilizing influence. But he added, "It's not going to remain a great institution if that neighborhood collapses around it."
During a presentation of a redevelopment plan for the East Monument Street area at the Southern Baptist Church, Mr. Schmoke again went out of his way to stress the city's problems.
"With all the good things going on here, this is one of the worst drug areas in the city," he said, standing up and running his hand over a map on display. "And this neighborhood here is what is probably the second worst."
After the tour and a visit to the city's redevelopment agency, Ms. Boergers said she appreciated "the opportunity to get to know the city better."
"As a candidate, you develop a gut-level feeling for people, neighborhoods and concerns that make you a better governor," she said.