Claiming they were never in doubt, hundreds of supporters of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke erupted into cheers of "Four More Years," danced and toasted him with champagne last night at a jubilant victory party at the Inner Harbor.
A beaming Mayor Schmoke jumped on the stage at 11 p.m., as the crowd cheered wildly, and promised to lead the city toward a better future in his third term.
"We won, you won, Baltimore won. We have to move forward now in a wonderful dynamic way. We know good days outweigh the bad, and the strengths outweigh the weaknesses," he said in a hoarse voice filled with emotion.
Supporters of challenger Mary Pat Clarke were buoyed by early returns that saw her surging to a lead, but by 10:40 p.m., the tide had turned decisively in the mayor's favor.
With his wife, two children and Gov. Parris N. Glendening at his side, Mr. Schmoke said: "It's our responsibility to take a section of our block and clean it up. It is our responsibility to make sure that every school has a PTA. It's our responsibility to make sure we kick these drug dealers off the corners. We're going to work hard and we're going to make sure the best days of our community are ahead of us."
Early returns from Clarke strongholds in white ethnic Baltimore neighborhoods were ultimately undone by Schmoke precincts in which black voters did not cross over to Mrs. Clarke as she had hoped.
At the 5th Regiment Armory, Clarke supporters took the loss hard and predicted gloomy times ahead for the city.
"I don't know what the peoples are going to do, because they always turned to Mary Pat for help when the mayor wouldn't," said Lorraine Laszczynski, a Clarke precinct worker from Canton. "They say they're going to move to the county before they take four more years of him."
While the Clarke crowd lost hope as the evening wore on, the Schmoke celebration at The Inn at Pier 5 overlooking the Inner Harbor grew increasingly festive. A band played in front of a large video screen outside and television monitors were set up throughout the banquet room indoors, but few in the crowd worried about the results.
Sporting re-elect Schmoke T-shirts and baseball caps, volunteers who had spent the day knocking on doors and driving voters to the polls relaxed by the water. People munched on buffalo wings and cheese and crackers at a lavish spread and swayed to the beat.
"I feel pretty confident that he will win," said Elizabeth Wright, a resident of the Westport public housing development, who said almost all of her neighbors turned out to vote.
Cynthia Carole Hollie, a first cousin of the mayor's wife, Patricia, said she was nervous, but thought it was a good sign. "I've always been nervous ever since he first ran for state's attorney in 1982 and it always worked out," she said.
Mingling with the Schmoke volunteers in green T-shirts and women in glittering evening gowns was Charles Graham, 48, a recovered heroin addict. Mr. Graham, who sought treatment after enrolling in the needle-exchange program the mayor began, said: "How do you not help somebody if he saved your life?"
At a table by the water, Kathy Harvatt, 42, savored the breeze and a moment of rest after arranging for rides for nearly 2,000 seniors, single mothers and the handicapped.
She flashed a thumbs-up sign and said: "We got out the vote for sure."
The low-key mood at the celebration changed dramatically at 10:40 p.m. when Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's chief political strategist, announced he was easily winning re-election. "We're showing we've won. We feel that a lot of people underestimated the intelligence of Baltimore voters."
The Clarke camp rode a roller coaster of emotion last night that ultimately went down.
Her supporters said the prospect of four more years of Schmoke rule in a city in decline gives rise to fears that the middle class exodus to the suburbs will accelerate.
"The Schmoke administration has done nothing to alleviate those fears," said Morning Sunday, a Waverly resident. "I think people are going to abandon their houses in a rush to get out. They'll simply walk away from their property."
"Hearing Larry Gibson proclaim victory kind of dampens things," said Gardenville resident and Clarke supporter Nomiki Weitzel. "From our neighborhood, we've seen an increase in crime and burglaries, and everybody was hopeful that a change would help. Our home has been broken into twice, our car three times, and there are already 13 houses for sale within two blocks while Schmoke is mayor."