Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke tried to keep his rival Mary Pat Clarke on the defensive over a 1993 proposal to tax drug profits yesterday, but he had to back down on a police statistic as they sparred anew about drugs and crime in Baltimore.
Mrs. Clarke, under scathing attack by the mayor for a bill to tax the income of drug dealers, fought back and forced the mayor to retreat from an earlier criticism that she had approved numerous police cuts during her council tenure.
Charging that the mayor was distorting her record on crime in a "smear campaign," the City Council president produced a detailed accounting of her votes on city budgets that led him to acknowledge using an incorrect number in a televised mayoral debate last week.
Mr. Schmoke had asserted that she voted consistently in favor of budgets that reduced the police force by 1,100 officers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But Mr. Schmoke said yesterday that the figure was actually closer to 400.
Still, he made clear that it was more than the two police positions she admitted to voting to eliminate in last Thursday's debate on Maryland Public Television.
"Her position is that she voted for two cuts in police officers. I'm saying it's several hundred," he said.
The mayor dismissed her suggestion that his 1,100 figure was based mainly on a transfer of 400 school crossing guards from the Police Department to the education department in the fiscal 1978 budget. Instead, he said, his campaign incorrectly added some cuts in the years between her departure from the council in 1983 and her election as its president in 1987.
At the same time, Mr. Schmoke assailed Mrs. Clarke for the second day for legislation she introduced in spring 1993 to levy a 15 percent tax on the money earned by drug dealers from street-corner sales.
The bill, which never had a hearing, is the focus of a new television commercial by the Schmoke campaign that features clips of Mrs. Clarke in the council chambers, haltingly trying to explain it to fellow council members. At one point, Mrs. Clarke waved her hands and said, "The idea is you want to do business on our streets, we're going to take, we, and the jails are full, and we're trying to deal with all these issues."
At a news conference she called to defend her proposal, Mrs. Clarke, who is challenging Mr. Schmoke's bid for a third term in the closely contested Sept. 12 Democratic primary, justified it as "one tool" to crack down on drug activity.
She said the bill was not nearly as outlandish as depicted by the mayor and was widely supported in the council. But she demurred when asked whether she would press for similar legislation if elected mayor, saying, "We'll look into it."
Mrs. Clarke reiterated her "zero tolerance" pledge against street-corner drug dealers and attacked the mayor again for his nationally known stance on decriminalizing at least some drugs.
"Kurt Schmoke is the mayor who has stood before the nation and recommended legalizing drugs or decriminalizing drugs," she said.
The mayor deflected her criticism with his own. "I knew that she would try to muddle the two issues," he said. "The difference is that I've supported policies to keep the profits out of distributing drugs, and she prefers to keep the profits in and have government take a cut."