Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke stepped up criticism of his rival yesterday, saying Mary Pat Clarke has deliberately tried to conceal her campaign activities by failing to file updated finance statements in the 18 months since she decided to challenge him.
In tough remarks that rekindled the controversy over Mrs. Clarke's campaign reports, Mr. Schmoke noted that his opponent did not disclose any contributions or expenditures in 1994 even though she opened a campaign office, sent out fliers and held a fund-raiser.
"It's starting to appear that for some reason she's trying to hide who her contributors are and failing to disclose to the public the financial status of the campaign," he said. "I think it's more than just sloppiness. Here we have an attempt to deliberately deceive the public."
Mrs. Clarke, Baltimore City Council president, dismissed the attack as "a red herring" designed to deflect attention from more pressing issues facing the city.
The mayor's remarks represent the latest chapter at City Hall since Mr. Schmoke ushered in a new style a year ago, promising to abandon his low-key approach and aggressively seek a third term.
Mrs. Clarke said contributions made to her since she announced her mayoral goal in the fall of 1993 went into a separate account. Her earlier standing committee, which has yet to file the most recent finance statement that was due Jan. 31, is basically defunct, she added.
"I do wonder what he [the mayor] is worried about in terms of my finances," she said. "We already know that he is the Goliath in terms of fund-raising"
Mrs. Clarke has raised $265,300 to date toward her goal of more than $700,000, said her treasurer, Ronald Ellison.
Mayor Schmoke's last campaign filing, dated Jan. 31, showed he had raised $2.1 million since his last campaign and had a cash balance of $251,225. He is expected to raise another $1 million to $2 million for his re-election campaign.
The first disclosure report for Mrs. Clarke's mayoral committee is not due until Aug. 17, prompting criticism from Mr. Schmoke and the mayor's chief political strategist, Larry S. Gibson, that she created it to avoid disclosing her contributions and debts for nearly two years.
"The spirit of the law is that every year we all have to come clean," Mr. Gibson said, adding that "the public debate about this election is now, it's not just in August."
Professors of government offered differing interpretations of Mrs. Clarke's creation of a separate committee.
Some called it a strategic attempt to keep the mayor's campaign in the dark about her resources, while others raised the possibility that her contributions are less than she needs to launch a credible campaign.
"One reason may be that you haven't gained the momentum that you would like," said James G. Gimpel, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
A fellow political professor at the University of Maryland, Paul S. Herrnson, said it could be an attempt to "buy time" for contributors who might fear reprisal and for Mrs. Clarke because "the disclosure would show whether there is widespread support or not."
Those who follow city politics said that focusing on finances is a ++ smart political move for the mayor, who has received high marks for leading the city through a recession and maintaining a top bond rating. But some questioned whether the issue would continue to resonate with the public.
Mayor Schmoke made his first public comments about his opponent's campaign reports -- which contain numerous discrepancies and errors -- at his weekly press briefing yesterday.
Mrs. Clarke still has not filed a supplemental report requested by state election officials to cover the final months of 1994.
Her finance statements throughout her eight-year tenure as council president contain repeated problems, from missing checks to an unacknowledged deficit three years in a row as well as incorrect entries for contributions and expenses.
The council president said she has directed her current treasurer to call in an accounting firm if needed to go through the reports and correct the problems.
The treasurer who handles the standing campaign committee has been out of the country.
Mr. Schmoke pointed out that Mrs. Clarke's 1994 report, which is unsigned and contains a $3,134 deficit, is the same as the previous year.
He questioned why she set up a separate committee.