Maybe it's out here on the harbor, looking at the stars and the bar lights, that a man gets to thinking about how to lead his city out of troubled waters. A water taxi captain knows as well as anybody, he supposes, it's just a matter of finding a way around the obstacles.
But unlike the deep Baltimore harbor, the city's political scene offers more than enough shallow water to frustrate a water taximan -- especially one headstrong enough to challenge a couple of luxury liners like Schmoke and Clarke. Seeking higher office is even harder when you know you have good ideas but work nights, can't afford a professional staff, and take care of two children, 7 and 3, during the day.
The water taxi captain, Kelley Culver Brohawn, is running for mayor anyway.
"I'm as common as dirt," says Mr. Brohawn, a 37-year-old Baltimore native who is the third candidate in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. "But I'm also a citizen -- of my city first, my state second, and my nation third."
Mr. Brohawn produces no TV advertising (he has refused the handful of campaign contributions he has been offered), delivers no speeches ("there's not much time," he says) and distributes no signs ("that's just litter"). As a result, he doesn't rate more than a dinghy on pollsters' radar screens.
But after being shut out of previous TV debates, he appeared confident and articulate during a debate on public television Thursday night. Asked about his lack of executive experience, Mr. Brohawn noted wryly that he takes passengers out into the harbor every day and "I've always brought them back in good shape."
And as his better-known opponents -- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke -- bitterly attacked each other, Mr. Brohawn chided them for ignoring the issues.
"The quality of life for people in the upper class, in the middle class and in poverty is declining," Mr. Brohawn says of his rivals. "And all I see from these two long-time politicians is inaction."
In a city of complicated problems, Mr. Brohawn argues that the government needs to look to innovative, if simple, solutions. His platform is a mix of cutbacks and new programs designed to stem what he calls "an emergency" in Baltimore.
Get counties involved
If elected, Mr. Brohawn promises to impose a five-year moratorium on the construction of subsidized housing for the poor. Instead, he would push the surrounding counties to take small numbers of the city poor into their towns -- thereby assimilating them into the middle class.
And if the counties won't cooperate? "We'll force them to," he says, probably by filing lawsuits to make them accept the city's poor.
"The city of Baltimore can no longer accept all the responsibility for the poor in central Maryland," he says. "Instead, we ought to allow people to move into townhouses in Towson and ranches in Rosedale."
Mr. Brohawn calls drug addiction the city's biggest problem and says Baltimore must immediately establish a 1,000-bed facility for inpatient treatment to have any hope of reducing crime.
He wants to lower property tax rates to keep middle-class people in Baltimore and to reduce the city budget.
He also wants to cancel the city's contract with Education Alternatives Inc. In its place, he says, he would introduce a standardized curriculum stressing basic reading and mathematics. He opposes any move to privatize the schools.
While Mr. Brohawn's friends and relatives like his ideas, they tend to know very little about his campaign. The candidate says that's as a result of the unusual way he contemplated a mayoral bid: he thought about it all by himself.
After former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whom Mr. Brohawn said he admires, decided against a bid, Mr. Brohawn suddenly thought he saw room to run. So he marched down to the city elections board and paid the $150 filing fee -- without telling his boss, his parents or even Kathy Brohawn, his wife of 14 years.
"I think she was slightly surprised," says Mr. Brohawn, a Coast Guard-licensed captain. "But we've been together for 15 years, and she knows that I'm not afraid of the big idea."
Born in Baltimore on Jan. 3, 1958 -- Thomas A. D'Alesandro Jr.'s last year as mayor -- Mr. Brohawn and his family moved from a small house on Belvedere Avenue to a larger place at 914 Evesham Ave. when he was six months old. He lives in the same house today.
The second of three children, he played Little League, went to Govans Elementary, and talked politics at a decidedly Democratic dinner table. His father, Donald Brohawn, worked as a salesman while his mother, Sara Lee, stayed home with the children until they were old enough to go to school. After that, both went into teaching, in part because it allowed them to keep the same schedules as their children.
Even when Kelley Brohawn took serious risks, Donald Brohawn says he kept his concerns to himself. One day, when Kelley Brohawn was 17, he got the idea to pedal his bicycle along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Lynchburg, Va. Without objection, his parents let him go.
"As it turned out, a truck blew him off the road and he temporarily forgot where he was, so he couldn't finish the trip," Donald Brohawn says. "So he got his bike packed up in a box, and caught a bus home."
Kelley Brohawn graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in and went to Frostburg State University, where he took classes in geography and philosophy.
But he tired of school, his father says, and eventually ended up working on various ships in the Gulf of Mexico -- including a stint in a clam dredge boat that operated off the Louisiana coast 24 hours a day.
"He was very talkative, very observant, and he always had thoughts about things," says Bob Keith, a longtime friend for whom Mr. Brohawn captained a boat six years ago. "But I didn't know of any political ambitions. I'm very surprised."
Mr. Brohawn says that being a candidate is frustrating. His mailings to the media have been largely ignored. He's upset with The Sun for consistently portraying the mayoral race as a two-person affair. And he has had to handle an extra four or five calls a day at home -- some from angry Mary Pat Clarke supporters who worry that he may siphon off some anti-Schmoke sentiment that should rightfully benefit their candidate.
The Clarke campaign did not respond to an inquiry about Mr. Brohawn. Schmoke's communications director, Craig Kirby, is careful to praise his "other" opponent.
"Like Mr. Brohawn, the mayor is far from a politician; the mayor is an elected official," Mr. Kirby says. "Mr. Brohawn, at the very least, attempts to bring some solutions to the table."
Mr. Brohawn's life appears to be free of any serious scandal, though the public record suggests something of a stubborn streak. The mayoral candidate has twice been sued over minor disputes -- in 1986 by The Sun over the nonpayment of a $106 advertising bill and in 1993 by a Cockeysville dentist who claimed Mr. Brohawn owed him $120. Mr. Brohawn says he had contested both bills. But, after the suits were filed, he decided to relent and pay.
'Not always popular'
"I'm not always the most popular person," Mr. Brohawn says of his approach to life in general. "I have opinions, and I speak them."
But out on the water, in command of a taxi, Mr. Brohawn is relaxed and low-key. His first mate, 16-year-old Cara Baykowski, calls him "a sweetheart." And passengers express surprise when a reporter tells them that the sandy-haired captain is a mayoral candidate.
"Are you kidding? He's running for mayor?" asks Herb Semel, a real estate developer visiting from Philadelphia. He takes another look at the slim, 5-foot-7-inch man wearing blue jeans, beat-up sneakers and a white, short-sleeve shirt. "Well, the fact that he's not a lawyer puts him ahead of the game, as far as I'm concerned."