Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ushered in a new style of politics at Baltimore City Hall yesterday, promising to abandon his low-key approach and aggressively challenge his chief rival.
Three days after Council President Mary Pat Clarke celebrated the opening of her campaign headquarters downtown, the mayor said he must consider her an outright adversary.
"This is simply me recognizing that I have a political opponent," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday. "She is going around town explaining to people the differences she has with me. Well, I have some differences with her, and from now on I intend to make them clear."
Mrs. Clarke's frequent and bitter skirmishes with the mayor have increased since she announced in September plans to oppose him in the 1995 Democratic primary.
In the past few weeks, she began rallying campaign workers and handing out bumper stickers with the slogan "Mary Pat Clarke in 1995." On Monday night, she invited more than 200 council members and supporters to a Valentine's Day party at her new campaign headquarters at 5 Light St.
"It's not going to be business as usual around here," Mayor Schmoke informed reporters at his weekly news conference. "Normally, I just let it roll off my back. Because the council president has officially announced her campaign, I can no longer afford to do that."
Mrs. Clarke appeared to be taken aback after learning about the mayor's second pointed reference to her campaign in as many days.
"I'm not in an election mode, but as a person, as an underdog, and a person with a minimal campaign chest, I have to rely on people power and volunteers," the two-term council president said.
With Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, his political confidant, at his side, Mr. Schmoke made it clear that he plans to run a tough campaign against Mrs. Clarke.
"I'm very strong in my determination to get re-elected," Mr. Schmoke said. "We're going to run a far more aggressive campaign this time. I recognize I have to run a smooth, tough, aggressive campaign."
Mr. Schmoke accused Mrs. Clarke of taking credit for constituent services provided by his office.
The council president, he said, often disagrees with him on issues, barely masking her political reasons.
"I see too much of her doing things similar to what she did at the Board of Estimates this week, announcing that she is voting for something, then trying to criticize what she has just voted for," Mr. Schmoke said. He clashed angrily with her Wednesday after Mrs. Clarke objected to conditions in a deal to bring a professional football team to Baltimore.
The mayor was particularly angered by Mrs. Clarke's criticism of the city's beleaguered police force.
"One of the reasons I decided to run [for mayor] in 1995 is my concern about the public safety situation," Mrs. Clarke said after The Sun recently chronicled widespread problems in the police department.
Yesterday, the mayor reminded reporters that he vetoed the budget last June after Mrs. Clarke and other council members approved a nickel tax cut. Mr. Schmoke said the $2 million budget did not provide enough money to hire the additional police officers the city needed.
"I'm not going to let her forget it," he said. He added that he's
considered Mrs. Clarke a rival as their relationship has soured. She announced her plans to challenge him just days before Mr. Schmoke decided to seek a third term.
Mr. Schmoke's political strategists said that his new posture toward Mrs. Clarke is necessary to convey the mayor's message to the voting public.
"In the past, he was content to win the issue and not the argument," Mr. Henson said. "But he realizes that people feel that since he didn't argue, that people think she's either his friend or she is right, when actually neither is true."
Mrs. Clarke maintained that she hopes to continue a working relationship with the mayor despite their political rivalry.
Mayor Schmoke also said he believes "good government" will be the key to winning the race, but said he cannot forget that he has a rival in the council president's office.
"What I do know is there is one constant in that I have a political opponent that I will have throughout this period, and I will keep that in the front of my mind," Mr. Schmoke said.
Some council members and community leaders expressed concern that the mayoral race already is under way. They said that the mayor and council president have to continue a decent working relationship to keep the city running smoothly.
"The concern that I have is that the legitimate business of the city does not suffer because of political ambitions," said Rodney A. Orange, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Councilman Carl Stokes, a 2nd District Democrat, said, "Quite frankly, I think it's too early to be in a campaign mode. But it's clear that they're both running."