Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer blamed Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday for igniting a feud with the Baltimore convention board and warned that unless the mayor quits wrestling for control of the agency, the city's tourism business will be ruined.
"He's trying to destroy tourism. . . . I'm worried, really worried," Mr. Schaefer said after a convention board-sponsored event downtown honoring outgoing Executive Director Wayne Chappell. "He doesn't understand tourism and the convention business. He doesn't have the vision."
Earlier, Mr. Schaefer delivered a spirited speech that criticized the mayor's move to appoint the majority of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA) board. BACVA wants to remain independent, and some board members have threatened to quit unless the mayor backs down.
The mayor's maneuvers would give him significant input into an agency that then-Mayor Schaefer designed in 1982 to receive city financial support but remain free of political ties while promoting tourism.
Mr. Schaefer's public criticism comes as the nascent mayoral election campaign shows signs of being a vicious, hard-fought race. Mr. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke have charged each other with unethical behavior while Mr. Schaefer remains coy about whether he will enter the race.
"There should not be a battle between administration and tourism. When I was here, there was a close relationship with the business community," Mr. Schaefer said in his speech.
To sell the city, BACVA must be able to choose its own board members and executive director and be free of political influence from the city administration, he said.
But Mr. Schmoke sees it differently. He believes the city should have more input into the convention board's decisions because Baltimore provides 85 percent of the agency's $3 million budget. The mayor has wanted to change the relationship with BACVA for years.
The clash came to a head last winter after the BACVA executive director overspent the budget by nearly $200,000 for a promotional effort called "Baltimore On Ice." The city had to bail the agency out and since has been scrutinizing its finances.
Board Chairman Henry A. Rosenberg Jr. publicly complained when Mr. Schmoke announced that he was slashing next year's budget by nearly $400,000. He said the city could not be promoted properly with a cut of that magnitude.
Yesterday, Mr. Schaefer clearly took sides.
"When you cut the budget of the one or two agencies that make your money, you are making a big mistake," Mr. Schaefer said.
Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke have been at odds since 1986, when Mr. Schmoke backed former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs in Mr. Schaefer's first race for governor.
Although he had not heard Mr. Schaefer's comments, Mr. Schmoke said yesterday, "I would rather talk about substantive issues rather than personality issues."
Mr. Schmoke, who returned from out of town yesterday, said he would comment on Mr. Schaefer's remarks during his scheduled news conference today.
"I have a number of things to talk about and that will be one of them," Mr. Schmoke said.
Mr. Schmoke is expected to respond to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's call Tuesday for a truce between the city and BACVA.
The mayor is also expected to respond to BACVA's opposition to his efforts to appoint the majority of the board.