Wednesday was a rare day in the political life of Baltimore City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.
The 1st District Democrat got a phone call from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at his family's five-and-dime store in Highlandtown.
"I was kind of shocked," said Mr. D'Adamo, adding that the call was only the third he has received from the mayor in the seven years the two men have been in office. "He just doesn't call me."
The subject of the conversation: today's special council meeting to choose a successor to former Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean. Mrs. McLean, who is under the care of a psychiatric hospital while awaiting a corruption trial in September, retired from office Tuesday.
The council meeting is expected to come down to a contest between veteran 5th District Democrat Iris G. Reeves, whose candidacy is being pushed by Mr. Schmoke, and outspoken 4th District Democrat Lawrence A. Bell III, who has the support of City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. But at least one other council member, 6th District Democrat Joseph J. DiBlasi, might be nominated.
Ten of the council's 19 votes are needed to select an heir to the city's third most powerful office. As of yesterday, council members said, no candidate appeared to have the required majority to serve the final 18 months of Mrs. McLean's four-year term.
Because the council president plans to challenge the mayor's bid for a third term next year, the jockeying is widely viewed as a test of the political strength of Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke.
Mrs. Reeves has been a Schmoke administration loyalist, and Mr. Bell has been a sharp critic of the mayor's record on public safety and school privatization.
Hence the flurry of phone calls and faxes that has kept City Hall abuzz this week. Some were direct appeals, like the call Mr. D'Adamo received from the mayor.
"He said, 'I hope you agree with me Iris Reeves would be the ideal person to fill out the term,' " Mr. D'Adamo said. "I told him I was undecided."
Others say they have been called by supporters and representatives of the mayor asking them to back Ms. Reeves. Administration officials also have made a point of broaching the subject while talking to council members about other matters.
Meanwhile, labor unions and environmentalists have been backing Mr. Bell.
Environmental activists stuck placards supporting Mr. Bell on all the council parking spaces outside City Hall yesterday morning. Public works crews promptly removed them.
Yesterday afternoon, the council's African-American Coalition issued a statement reaffirming what it called the importance of selecting a black woman to succeed Mrs. McLean.
"We're supporting Mrs. Reeves on the principle that the voters elected a black woman to serve in that office," said council Vice President Vera P. Hall.
Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat who said he was contacted by several of Mr. Schmoke's political allies and contributors on behalf of Mrs. Reeves, expressed surprise over the intense lobbying. "The mayor is just pulling out all the stops," he said.
Timothy D. Murphy, a 6th District Democrat, said he heard from a representative of the City Union of Baltimore, one of the six labor groups that lined up behind Mr. Bell.
"Nobody beat me up," said Mr. Murphy, who remains committed to Mr. DiBlasi. "They called me up and said, 'We want you to know our position.' "
Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke sought yesterday to play down the effect of their political rivalry on the council's decision.
At his news conference yesterday morning, the mayor said he thinks Mrs. Reeves would restore public trust and would not politicize the office because she does not plan to seek election as comptroller next year.
The 11-year council incumbent would nearly double her pension, to $14,575 a year, if she retired after serving the remainder of Mrs. McLean's term rather than after serving another year as a council member.
"My strong support for her has to do with her experience as a councilwoman and her knowledge of budget and my sense that she could bring some stability to the office," Mr. Schmoke said.
He said his backing for Mrs. Reeves was not diminished by her secretive visit made last month, with four other council members, to the Baltimore Circuit Court's administrative judge to seek a delay in Mrs. McLean's trial. Mrs. Reeves and the other council members at first denied meeting with offered no further explanation.
"I don't think that one incident should disqualify her from serving in this position for a year," he said.
Mr. Schmoke also said he had approached Shirley Williams, the deputy comptroller who took over when Mrs. McLean went on a leave of absence in December, but that Ms. Williams did not want to become comptroller, in part because that would require her to take a substantial pay cut.
Mrs. Clarke decried the politicization of the decision as "a setup deal to help defeat Councilman Bell."
"It detracts from the qualifications of the candidates and puts it into a different arena," she said.
The council president said Mrs. Reeves has "done a very fine job" as the council's budget committee co-chair but that she was backing Mr. Bell because "I like the fact that he is energetic. He is intelligent. He is the next generation of Baltimore's leadership, and that generation had better take charge if we are going to move ahead into the 21st century."
Mr. Murphy said he is backing Mr. DiBlasi because of his colleague's long experience in banking. "He clearly does have the credentials for the position," Mr. Murphy said.
Mr. Schmoke originally favored Mr. DiBlasi for the position, but he switched his allegiance to Mrs. Reeves after some members of the council's African-American Coalition told him they thought Mrs. McLean's term should be completed by a black woman. Mr. DiBlasi is expected to run for comptroller with the mayor on a ticket in 1995.
Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a member of the coalition, said she is backing Mrs. Reeves over Mr. Bell, her colleague from the 4th District, because of Mrs. Reeves' knowledge and character.
"She is not a surface person," Ms. Dixon said of Mrs. Reeves. "Lawrence is very much so. He gets up and grandstands, but he doesn't deal with issues on the nitty-gritty level."
Mr. D'Adamo said he would like to see Mr. DiBlasi as comptroller but that "unfortunately" the council probably wouldn't accept a white man to finish out the term.
He said he couldn't get excited over Mrs. Reeves or Mr. Bell. He played down Mrs. Reeves' position as budget co-chair, noting that the council has a limited role in the budget process, and said Mr. Bell has no business experience.
"Qualifications of the candidates? I think there are none," he said.