Baltimore is being touted as one of the showcase cities for a mock presidential primary -- a "glamour race" in the words of one cynical political wag -- to be held during the Nov. 7 mayoral election.
The trouble is, not many folks in Baltimore have gotten the word about the possible straw poll -- and unresolved legal questions are standing in the way of it ever becoming a reality.
Under a plan being pushed by a group called CityVote, the names of 1996 presidential aspirants would appear on municipal ballots in 18 cities across the nation. Voters could participate in the early straw poll by casting nonbinding "votes" for their favorite candidate.
"I know nothing about it," said Barbara E. Jackson, the city's election administrator -- and the woman who would be responsible for putting those names on the November ballot.
"No one from the city or the state has contacted me to tell me anything about it," Ms. Jackson said. "I'm having classes for election judges now, and if it's going to be on the ballot, I need to know now so I can tell them what to expect."
The news is worse still for CityVote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Irvine, Calif., that is trying to focus national attention on the concerns of cities, as well as the voting power of urban areas.
According to a Jan. 13 Maryland attorney general's opinion, Baltimore does not have authority to put the names on the ballot without first getting the legislature's blessing. Enabling legislation that would have given the city the power to put the presidential hopefuls' names on the ballot died in the legislature in 1994.
And so, "There's no way they can get it on the ballot," said Bernard F. Murphy, director of legislative reference for the city.
"They called here thinking that they really could do something -- I mean, everyone would like to preview the presidential election -- but so far, I don't think they've succeeded in convincing the state or city about putting it on the ballot," Mr. Murphy said.
Larry A. Agran, CityVote's executive director, said he is aware of the problem, but takes exception to the state's power over what he termed "the city's First Amendment right to free speech."
"It raises an interesting legal question: Does Baltimore have the legal authority, on its own, to conduct nonbinding presidential-preference balloting in conjunction with its regular municipal election?" Mr. Agran said. "We believe the answer is clearly, yes."
He said he wrote Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last week to apprise him of the situation, offering assistance from the group to help the ballot come to pass.
"If the political will exists in Baltimore to move ahead with it -- and I believe it does -- then the city should move ahead, asserting its own authority," Mr. Agran said.
Whatever CityVote decides to do, it better do it fast.
Ms. Jackson said that Aug. 21 is the deadline for charter amendments and ballot questions (which is what the straw poll would be considered) to be submitted for inclusion on the November ballot.
A vision for Louisiana?
One man's "vision" is another woman's "new beginning."
It seems that a Democratic candidate for governor of Louisiana was mighty impressed by the campaign that helped elect Parris N. Glendening as Maryland's governor in November.
At least 15 sentences of "A New Beginning for Louisiana" -- a slick, 32-page booklet issued by state Treasurer Mary Landrieu's campaign for governor -- are nearly identical to those in Mr. Glendening's "Vision for Maryland's Future."
For example, the booklet quotes Ms. Landrieu as saying: "Random, rampant violence has families across our state fearing for their safety in the streets, in the schools, even in their own cars and homes."
Mr. Glendening's booklet states: "Random, rampant violence has families across our state fearing for their safety on the streets, in schools -- even in their own homes."
The key to understanding this seeming coincidence is Kim Haddow, a media consultant with Greer, Margolis, Mitchell, Burns & Associates in Washington, said Mr. Glendening's press secretary, Dianna D. Rosborough.
That group, which developed Mr. Glendening's campaign last year, handles Democratic candidates nationwide.
The similarities were first revealed by an enterprising young reporter, Tyler Bridges, of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
Signs of summer
Like summer perennials, expect to see a crop of colorful campaign signs blooming on Baltimore front lawns later this week.
A 1986 city law -- aimed at (of all things in Baltimore) clutter busting -- prohibits homeowners from posting campaign signs in their front yards until the deadline passes for a candidate's name to be withdrawn. This year, that date is tomorrow.
So far, a few scoffs have jumped the gun and posted campaign signs, reports Mr. Murphy, city legislative reference director. He was asked to render an opinion on the early signs. The offense is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a $25 fine.
Other signs are legal, though. The law allows homeowners and business owners to post campaign signs in windows and on business offices and storefronts, he said.