Six ministerial groups representing hundreds of churches in Baltimore came together for the first time in their history yesterday to throw their support behind Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's bid for a third term.
In making their first joint endorsements, the ministers from predominantly black congregations who have long been active in city politics also backed Joan M. Pratt for comptroller but could not agree on a candidate for the council presidency.
Councilman Carl Stokes had been reported their choice for president. But when representatives of the six mostly Baptist organizations took a final vote yesterday, they split evenly over endorsing him or Councilwoman Vera P. Hall.
The Rev. Arnold Howard, pastor of Enon Baptist Church in West Baltimore, tried to shrug off an earlier television report that the groups were backing Mr. Stokes. "We had had some preliminary meetings," he said, "but we were split as an organization."
"Normally we've done this individually," Mr. Howard said. "Our community has been divided over various candidates and because of the importance of what is happening in the city we need to come together."
Elected officials and political observers were not surprised by the endorsement of Mr. Schmoke, who received strong support from ministers in both of his campaigns for mayor.
Some called it a significant boost to the Schmoke and Pratt campaigns by guaranteeing them help from the pulpits of as many as 500 churches and additional forces to mobilize supporters on the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. Others, however, pointed out that the choice for mayor is likely to be a highly personal one for voters who are familiar with both Mr. Schmoke and his rival, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.
"Endorsements tend to be terribly overblown in terms of their actual value. But it does matter if the people are decision makers, particularly if they get up on the pulpit and talk about it, and if they employ their church membership in active get-out-the-vote campaigns," said Donald F. Norris, a political scientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
The Clarke campaign emphasized that Mrs. Clarke is well-known in churches throughout the city for her tireless constituent work during eight years as council president.
"While the ministers have endorsed the mayor, we will still be going into the congregations because this is a people-to-people campaign, and Mary Pat has strong support in many of the churches," said Cheryl Benton, Mrs. Clarke's campaign manager.
Mrs. Clarke already won a sweep of the city's public safety unions with endorsements from the police, firefighters and fire .. officers unions. Mr. Schmoke picked up more labor support yesterday with an endorsement from two unions representing Mass Transit Administration bus drivers and municipal employees.
The six ministerial groups made their endorsements based on nine issues, from a promise to increase homeownership in designated neighborhoods by 50 percent to a commitment against casino gambling. Mr. Schmoke came out against casinos last week, as did Mrs. Clarke.
The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, which traditionally has the most political influence, did not endorse Mr. Schmoke in his first campaign in 1987. This year it united with the Baptist Ministers Conference, United Evening Baptist Ministers Conference, Lutheran Baltimore Urban Ministers Coalition, United Missionary Baptist Convention of Maryland and Maryland Baptist Convention. Some influential ministerial groups were not among them, including Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore, a coalition fighting to revive East Baltimore.