Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday threw his solid support behind Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke for mayor, but continued to hold out the possibility of his own return to City Hall.
Pausing after a speech at a symposium on aging, Mr. Schaefer repeatedly refused to discuss what the future might hold for him in politics, but acknowledged he is raising money for Mrs. Clarke and is supporting her in the Democratic primary.
"I'm trying to help her," he told The Sun. "I'm trying to help her with fund raising."
Mr. Schaefer, mayor of Baltimore for 15 years before his two terms as
governor, complained that he is "watching the city deteriorate" under Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
"The city's going down the drain," he said, offering that as the reason for supporting Mrs. Clarke, who once was his bitter enemy when she was a 2nd District councilwoman.
Mrs. Clarke was unavailable for comment, but campaign spokeswoman Cheryl A. Benton said, "We're happy that he's willing to support us, and we're working with him to help find other ways for him to support us."
Mr. Schmoke, running hard for his third term, could not be reached for comment.
Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's political adviser and campaign treasurer, was not surprised by the news.
Mr. Gibson began his response by listing a handful of political races in which he and Mr. Schaefer found themselves in opposite camps -- battles in which his candidates won.
"As for him being for my opponent, he's sort of my good luck charm," Mr. Gibson said. "So I look forward to his support of the opposing candidate."
Mr. Schaefer, not unlike Mr. Gibson, is known for his ability to raise big money -- the stuff that fuels campaigns -- and would give Mrs. Clarke a boost.
Asked if he was concerned about Mr. Schaefer weighing in as a rainmaker for Mrs. Clarke, Mr. Gibson replied, "I don't think money will determine the election.
"I think it will be determined on the citizens of Baltimore appreciating Mayor Schmoke's record, Mary Pat Clarke's absence of record and Don Schaefer's mythical record."
Mr. Schaefer feigned deafness when asked about his own possible run for mayor -- a scenario that could include a bid as an independent candidate in the general election, should Mrs. Clarke lose to Mr. Schmoke in the primary.
"My hearing isn't what it used to be," he said, cupping his hand to his ear. "The acoustics in here are so bad."
Finally, he said, "I have not ruled it in or out, haven't done anything. I'm just still -- what's the old saying? -- I'm thinking."
Privately, Clarke supporters and others have said if she loses the Sept. 12 primary to the mayor, Mr. Schaefer could figure into an "Anybody-but-Schmoke" effort in the general election.
Mr. Gibson said he "would not be surprised" if the former governor entered the race -- and pointed out that the mayor's radio campaign has focused on critical comparisons of Mr. Schmoke's eight years in office and Mr. Schaefer's tenure as mayor.
Mr. Schaefer was the keynote speaker yesterday at a symposium on aging at the Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Studies on the Homewood campus.
He stuck to the subject -- in his stream-of-consciousness style -- and made only passing reference to politics in his speech.
Afterward, Mr. Schaefer was highly critical of Mr. Schmoke and assailed the way in which he manages the city, saying that he believed Mrs. Clarke would do a better job.
"I think she would appoint competent people," he said. "That would be one of the main things for her, that she'd appoint competent people."
He cited a televised news report that showed a public works department crew filling only one pothole during an eight-hour shift.
"You can't get around that: A person that sends a truck with three or four members of a crew out, and they do nothing except fix one patch, when there are potholes, dirt, trash, everywhere, there's something wrong," he said. "I think she'd appoint someone competent -- at least someone who'd at least know how to run a public works department."
Asked if he believed the current administration was competent, he replied, "No."
Using Mr. Schaefer out front to draw and return fire with the Schmoke camp would be one possible role for the former governor.
That tactic would allow the Clarke campaign to pound the mayor, while keeping the candidate herself above the fray, in what already has been a rather heated race.
Mr. Schaefer also lashed out at Mr. Gibson, calling him "the shadow mayor" and suggesting that he -- and not Mr. Schmoke -- was running the city.
"You see, you've got a shadow mayor, and the shadow mayor sort of directs what's going to happen and where the improvements will be made," he said.
In other areas, however, "you see neighborhoods that are just absolutely inundated with trash," he said.
Mr. Gibson refused to rise to the bait -- or to answer Mr. Schaefer's charge -- saying, "I'm not going to get diverted into arguments about me. The person he would be running against would be Mayor Schmoke. He may try to change the subject, but the Schmoke campaign response will address Mayor Schaefer's mythical record and Mary Pat Clarke's absence of record."
If former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, now a registered Democrat, were to decide to run again for mayor, he would face a series of options and deadlines:
* To run as a Republican in the Sept. 12 primary or as an independent in the Nov. 7 general, he would have to change his party affiliation with the city election board by Monday.
* To run as a Republican in the primary, he would have to file as a candidate by July 3.
* To run as an independent in the general (there is no primary for independents), he would have to file as a "petition candidate" by Aug. 7. He also would be required to submit the signatures of at least 3 percent of Baltimore's registered voters -- or about 9,800 voters.
* To run as a write-in candidate in the general -- without changing his party affiliation -- he would have until Nov. 6 to file.
SOURCE: Board of Supervisors of Elections for Baltimore City