Baltimore was not a doubt-free city yesterday. For all the thousands of committed partisans for one candidate or another, for all the die-hards, there were plenty of others who wavered, thought about it, took a deep breath, thought again, and only then reached for the lever.
The hand that lingered -- it was one of the emblems of this election.
"I decided right there in the booth," said Cynthia Rutstein Visvikis, 34, a professional folk singer who had brought her 19-month-old son, Dylan Israel Visvikis, with her to her polling place at Mount Washington Elementary School.
For weeks she had tried to decide between Kurt L. Schmoke and Mary Pat Clarke. For weeks she had been talking it over with her husband. "Well, I talk about it a lot, and he listens," she conceded.
She liked Mrs. Clarke, she said, but in the end something told her that Mr. Schmoke deserved another chance, especially now that he is finally free of the shadow of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"If she ran for any other office, I'd vote for her in a minute," Ms. Visvikis said. "But I think he's really progressive, so in the end I voted for the mayor."
A couple of miles down the Jones Falls Valley, in Hampden, Peter Kebbekus, 28, a graduate student who had always supported Mr. Schmoke before, found himself voting this time for Mrs. Clarke.
It was something about the mayoral debates, he thought, that got him thinking about switching his allegiance.
"She seems fiery," he said. "I suppose that's the tune for the '90s -- to shake things up."
It was a first election for 18-year-old Pascal Green, who at 2 p.m. yesterday took his place between the lever and the curtains in a voting booth in Pigtown.
On a day when schools were closed, a day he says he spent mostly "staying out of trouble," the Southwestern High School senior didn't find the experience intimidating so much as heady. "My English teacher was telling us there was a time when blacks couldn't vote, so I made up my own mind to come out," said Mr. Green, an aspiring electrician. "I figured if I didn't do it, I would wonder what it was about, and if I did do it, I might learn something."
An irrepressibly cheerful and grandmotherly election official guided him to the booth. Now he stared at the tiny writing on the white and pink board, and slowly took his hands out of the pockets of his baggy jeans. He grabbed the lever. Ka-chunk. Snap.
It was nothing new at all for 83-year-old Annie B. Spicer, who emerged triumphantly from a library branch at Garrison Boulevard and Callaway Avenue. Using a cane for support, she inched her way to the sidewalk, loudly proclaiming her choice for mayor.
"I was going to vote today if they had to drag me in here," Ms. Spicer proudly announced. "I had to vote for Kurt. He's my boy."
The day's frosty moment -- a brief one -- took place at Lakewood Avenue and Oliver Street yesterday.
M. Erin Clarke, 28, daughter of Mary Pat Clarke, was working the poll -- a tough one, deep in the heart of Schmoke territory on the east side -- when she spied Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's campaign manager and political guru.
Ms. Clarke, whose energy resembles her mother's, bounded over to introduce herself.
"Hi, Mr. Gibson, I'm Erin Clarke, Mary Pat's daughter," she said, extending her hand.
"How are you?" said Mr. Gibson, taking her hand. He then promptly turned around to continue chatting to Schmoke poll workers.
If Ms. Clarke was chagrined, it didn't show. She continued greeting voters with a smile and a handshake, handing out sample ballots.
"I hope you're going to consider my mom," she said again and again.
Though Mr. Gibson does have a reputation of being brusque, about five minutes after meeting Ms. Clarke he turned to her to say, "Nice meeting you," before leaving.
On a basketball court about 100 yards from the polling place at Arnett J. Brown Jr. Middle School in Cherry Hill, Kwame Rawlings practiced his jump shot yesterday morning. And when he finished his jump shots, he worked on his layups.
"Why am I going to vote when I don't think either of them will make a good mayor?" said Mr. Rawlings, 30, who says he is a registered voter and voted in past elections. "The city hasn't been no better since Schmoke became mayor and Mary Pat, never."
So he played basketball all morning. "I know what I should do, but my conscience won't let me vote for any of them," he said. "Maybe next election."
The last voter of the day at First English Lutheran Church in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood was W. Stanwood Whiting, who had campaigned all morning for Mrs. Clarke, worked all afternoon at his office in Lutherville, driven all the way to Frederick for a dentist's appointment, and rushed all the way back in the evening in time to cast his vote for the challenger.
With him was his son, Thomas, 8, who was unimpressed by his father's commitment. Despite a Mary Pat Clarke baseball cap on his head -- "My dad made me wear it" -- Thomas is a Schmoke fan all the way. He once met the mayor at the Cafe Hon in Hampden, which his mother owns, and he wasn't going to let something like an election change his mind now.