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Baltimore mayor plays hardball after being stymied on comptroller vote


The mayor giveth and the mayor taketh away.

Earlier this week, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was feeling less than generous.

Still steamed over his inability to muscle the votes in the City Council to approve his pick for comptroller, Mr. Schmoke yanked a handful of $25 tickets to the Annual J. Millard Tawes Crab & Clam Bake today in Crisfield -- after bestowing them earlier on council members.

The mayor's campaign had invited council members and others to be his guests at the schmooze event of the summer's political season in Somerset County, all expenses paid, including bus transportation to and from there. But, after the council stalemate Friday -- when members failed to select a successor to indicted former Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean after three attempts -- those members not voting for the mayor's selection, Councilwoman Iris G. Reeves, were dis-invited for crabs.

"We oversubscribed," Mr. Schmoke said, with wink, a nod and a gotcha grin of explanation.

"We have one bus, unlike last year, and we have a limited amount of seating," the mayor said. "We had to make some choices about seating, and I delegated that responsibility to my campaign manager."

Larry S. Gibson, Mr. Schmoke's campaign manager and political guru, did the deed.

"This is a political event, paid for by the mayor's political committee, and the mayor can decide who will be his guest and who will not," Mr. Gibson said.

Asked if the dis-invitations had anything to do with the council's failure to deliver the votes for Mrs. Reeves, Mr. Gibson said: "You can draw any conclusion you want to draw."

Mr. Schmoke, he said, "can make judgments and certainly take politics into account and decide who will accompany him." Yet, Mr. Gibson conceded, he in fact made the decision on who's in and who's out.

"As chair of his political campaign, I communicated the invitations, and I communicated any adjustments that were made on the invitation list," he said.

The first to be "adjusted" was Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., the 1st District Democrat who abstained on all three votes, despite some heavy arm-twisting from the administration -- and a personal audience with Hizzoner to explain his nonvote just after the session.

D'Adamo, whose secretary already had accepted the offer on Friday, before the vote, called Mr. Gibson's office Monday, asking if he could bring his father along.


OK, but I'm still coming, right?

That's a no -- we're overextended.

"I felt like saying, I'll sit in the bus' bathroom, if they have a shortage of seats," the councilman said. "But I eat crabs three times a week; I don't need them to buy me crabs."

Mr. D'Adamo, who historically has supported the mayor's efforts, seemed hurt by the dis-invitation, saying he thought Mr. Schmoke understood the reason for his abstaining from the vote, based on Friday's conversation.

He backed neither Mrs. Reeves, of the 5th District, nor Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III of the 4th District, who was the anointed pick of City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, the mayor's political rival.

"I didn't hurt the mayor, I didn't hurt the candidates. I did the right thing," he said plaintively. "I can't believe the administration would stoop this low."

Mr. D'Adamo said he has telephoned the mayor's office six times and Mr. Gibson's office four times since Monday, but has yet to get a call back. Finally, he got hold of Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, a mayoral political operative. "He said, 'Nick, we're going to start playing hardball. It's the principle: You were not there to help the mayor,' " the councilman recalled. "If Henson and Gibson want a puppet, I'll go to Kmart and buy them a puppet."

"I hold no grudges against the mayor," Mr. D'Adamo said. "The mayor's a better person than that. He's too much of a gentleman to do this."

Most members of the Errant Nine either declined or ignored Mr. Gibson's invitation -- a signed missive on the letterhead of Shapiro and Olander, the Baltimore law firm where he is affiliated -- and heard no more about it. But two calls did go out from the campaign manager's law office to councilmen from the 2nd District.

Carl Stokes, who had accepted the invitation, said he was called and told "they had overextended the invitations and that I was longer invited."

Anthony J. Ambridge, a perennial thorn in the mayor's side, never responded to the invitation, but got a call anyway, "that they were overbooked and that we'd have to do it another time."

"I think I was uninvited," said Mr. Bell, who also did not RSVP, but who received a call from Mr. Gibson's office. "It's extraordinarily petty, but it doesn't completely surprise me."

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