In what could be a boost to her underdog mayoral campaign, Council President Mary Pat Clarke last night won the endorsement of Baltimore's police union.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 voted overwhelmingly to back Mrs. Clarke over two-term incumbent Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at a closed-door meeting attended by about 200 members, said FOP president Gary McLhinney.
In announcing the results of the voice vote, Mr. McLhinney cited the two-term council president's support of municipal workers and contrasted her pledge to crack down on drug dealers with the mayor's nationally known position to treat drug addiction as a public health problem.
Other factors were Mr. Schmoke's imposition of a police hirin freeze and retraction of a negotiated pay raise during the city's budget crisis of the early 1990s, Mr. McLhinney said.
The union represents some 2,900 police officers, abou two-thirds of whom live outside the city.
"She does not believe in wasting time talking about legitimizing drugs, which sends the wrong message to our children," Mr. McLhinney said of Mrs. Clarke.
Though the FOP was expected to back Mrs. Clarke, the Clarke campaign was ecstatic about the endorsement for the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.
"What the FOP is saying is that they believe that Mary Pat Clarke's plan and . . . her ability and leadership will turn this city around," said Cheryl Benton, Mrs. Clarke's campaign manager.
The Schmoke campaign, on the other hand, downplayed the significance of the FOP's endorsement, noting that the FOP represents just a small fraction of the city's approximately 25,000 unionized workers.
"We never had any slightest expectation that the FOP would support Mayor Schmoke," said Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's campaign chairman.
"They seem to be hostile to the city of Baltimore. . . . They are of no help in the legislature of getting money for the city."
L "Only Baltimoreans vote in this election," Mr. Gibson added.
But one independent political observer said that because of the importance voters place on the issue of crime, an endorsement by a police union can carry symbolic weight.
"It'll be a centerpiece endorsement," said Herbert C. Smith, professor of political science at Western Maryland College.
Indeed, a poll by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. for The Sun and WMAR-TV released 10 days ago showed that crime and drugs were far and away the most important issue to likely city voters.
The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent, showed Mr. Schmoke with 47 percent of the vote and Mrs. Clarke with 32 percent, with 20 percent undecided.
Mr. Schmoke, who is black, got most of his support from black voters, the poll showed, while Mrs. Clarke, who is white, got most of her support from whites.
About two-thirds of the city police force is white.
The FOP had been expected to endorse Mrs. Clarke since a March survey of its membership found widespread morale problems and dissatisfaction with new Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, whom Mr. Schmoke has called one of the best police chiefs in the country.
The survey found 70 percent of the FOP members wanted the union to endorse Mrs. Clarke, compared to just 7 percent who wanted it to back Mr. Schmoke.