As Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke kicked off his bid for a third term with a well-attended, big-ticket gala at the Inner Harbor last night, he tried to keep his rival on the defensive by again questioning her ethics on personal finances.
For the fourth week in a row, the Schmoke campaign seized on a mistake in a financial disclosure report to criticize City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who is launching a feisty challenge to the mayor's re-election.
The day, which began with the Kurt Schmoke Committee leveling new charges, featured a sidewalk confrontation between Schmoke supporters and Mrs. Clarke only hours before the mayor's $500-a-ticket fund-raiser at the Christopher Columbus Center.
Calling the Columbus Center "a symbol of the positive developments people expect in Baltimore City in years to come," Mr, Schmoke told the crowd of more than 1,000 supporters, "We're going to continue to work hard, we're going to continue to move forward, and I can tell you we're going to continue to have progress for this city in a third term."
His upbeat tenor contrasted with his campaign's latest attempts to turn up the rhetoric over Mrs. Clarke's finance reports. Mr. Schmoke's re-election committee said yesterday that her city disclosure form was "false and misleading" because she failed to disclose co-signing a $1 million loan that her husband used to buy an apartment building at 2905 N. Charles St.
Mrs. Clarke fended off the criticism by saying she has no ownership interest in the 64-unit brick building that her husband, real estate developer J. Joseph Clarke, bought and renovated. But she co-signed a loan guarantee with her husband because it required pledging their home in Tuscany/Canterbury as collateral.
Since mid-1994, Mrs. Clarke has consistently made clear that her family was involved in the project and that she intended to abstain from any vote on the matter.
"I am not a party to this loan. What I signed was an agreement so it could be used as part of a guarantee against the company's loan," Mrs. Clarke told reporters at a news conference she had called in front of the mayor's campaign headquarters.
She had to walk away as the mayor's supporters streamed out of the building on St. Paul Place chanting, "Come clean, Mary Pat!" Some hoisted cleanser and window cleaner in the air to #i punctuate each word. Others waved mops, buckets and campaign signs.
Mrs. Clarke said later that she would continue trying to shift attention back to the issues of lost jobs, a spiraling crime rate and beleaguered schools. "I think this speaks for itself," she said, walking back to City Hall. "Irrelevance and intimidation. Once again, he is trying to disrupt the character of me and my family."
As he put his re-election campaign into gear at the new marine biotechnology center, the mayor maintained that he wants to "run an issue-oriented campaign." But Mr. Schmoke said last night that he chose to highlight questions over his rival's finance reports because of her remarks that he was corrupt for allowing no-bid housing repair contracts to go to his brother-in-law and friends of top housing officials.
His campaign has raised repeated questions in the past month over discrepancies with Mrs. Clarke's campaign finance reports, which she has dismissed as a campaign diversion.
All elected officials and department heads in Baltimore must submit annual reports disclosing financial interests, mortgages and other liabilities with companies that do business with the city.
Mrs. Clarke revealed in her latest report, filed in October, that her husband and children own the company that bought the North Charles Street apartment building from the Johns Hopkins University last summer.
Her husband said yesterday that he purchased the building June 30 for $850,000. He installed new kitchens and bathrooms, and renovated the lobby for about $300,000, and is leasing the apartments mostly to Hopkins students, he said.
Mrs. Clarke said she assumed that her statement covered all that was required. But to conform with city law, she is likely to have to correct her report to list that she co-signed the loan, said Bernard F. "Buzz" Murphy, the city's director of legislative reference.
Mr. Murphy informed the chairman of the city's ethics board, Alan R. Yuspeh, of the questions raised about the Clarke report yesterday afternoon. Mr. Yuspeh said he would look into the nTC matter. "I don't know the underlying facts, and then there's the question of intent -- whether it was an inadvertent omis
sion or if there needs to be any remedy beyond correcting the form."
Mr. Clarke's purchase of the North Charles Street apartment building prompted questions by the Schmoke administration a year ago. In May, the city solicitor asked that the Board of Estimates delay for a week a request from Mr. Clarke's company.
J. J. Clarke Enterprises Inc. had asked the board for a resolution of support to obtain $1.2 million in state tax-exempt bond financing for renovations. The following week, Mr. Clarke asked that the item be withdrawn because he had lined up conventional financing.
City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said at the time that he just wanted to be cautious after former Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean slipped a million-dollar city lease of the headquarters of her travel agency past her colleagues on the board.
But Mrs. Clarke's supporters called his move a political attack.
Yesterday, the Schmoke re-election committee sharpened its criticism by comparing the McLean scandal to Mrs. Clarke's failure to list her loan signature. The remarks came less than a week after the mayor said payments of about $20,000 by Citizens for Clarke to Mrs. Clarke don't "smell right." The Clarke campaign insists that the payments are reimbursements for legitimate expenses.
Mr. Schmoke also had come under criticism in the past for failing to report two loans on disclosure forms. Mr. Schmoke has since filed an amendment to disclose the two second mortgages that he and his wife, Patricia, took out on their Ashburton home in the 1980s. Both were repaid years ago.
The mayor has since filed an amendment to his disclosure reports. But he tried yesterday to differentiate the problems, saying "the two situations cannot be compared" because one involved a paid second mortgage and the other involves a current $1 million obligation.