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Carl Snowden is more than just an idealist


"HAVE YOU heard the latest news about my old friend Carl Snowden?" the voice on the phone asked, in a sardonic tone that makes it clear the Annapolis alderman isn't his friend at all.

"He's having a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser. And it's being held by [attorney] Alan Hyatt," who happens to represent businessman Harvey Blonder, arch-enemy of many downtown residents. He says this as if describing some kind of crime.

Well, $1,000-a-plate fund-raisers certainly are unusual in Annapolis. But a crime?

No war without bullets

Former Annapolis Mayor Roger "Pip" Moyer scoffs at the very notion. Carl Snowden wants to be mayor; it's as simple as that. "You can't go to war without bullets, and you can't win a campaign without money," Mr. Moyer says -- an eminently practical sentiment that Mr. Snowden couldn't agree with more if he'd voiced it himself.

Actually, he does voice it himself. "The question," he says, "is whether people have confidence that you can win. And while money is not the sole determining factor, it's pretty important . . . to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are a formidable candidate."

For 27 years, since he was 16 years old, Carl Snowden's name has been synonomous with civil rights, with advocacy for minorities and the poor -- causes that tend to attract idealists. But Mr. Snowden is not an idealist. He's not out there merely to send a message or be a symbol. When the Annapolis City Council in 1985 drew him out of the majority-black district he sued to create, he didn't stand and shout. He moved, ran for alderman and won.

If he runs for mayor in 1997, it won't be as a protest candidate, a spoiler, a token black candidate or as a way to broadcast his social views. He'll run to win, or he won't run at all.

This is one of the most pragmatic politicians you will ever see. He knows what he stands for and can articulate it as eloquently as a preacher in the pulpit. He knows, too, that standing for something isn't enough. You have to get things done. You always play by the rules, but you do whatever you can within the rules to accomplish what you want.

Some years ago, Mr. Snowden sponsored legislation that would have outlawed the kind of fund-raiser he had the other week. It would have limited individual contributions to mayoral candidates to $200. The City Council changed that to $2,500. That's the law everyone else is working under, Mr. Snowden reasons. So if he can raise $1,000 a plate, why shouldn't he? Why put himself at an unfair disadvantage?

"People underestimate me," Mr. Snowden says. "They underestimate my intelligence. They underestimate my drive."

Mostly, however, they underestimate his ability to steer his agenda through a political landscape populated with people who do not always agree with him, or even like him.

"Today's adversary," he says, "is tomorrow's ally."

When he came on the council in 1985, "I thought having a belief in my ideas and voicing the merits of my position would be enough. I thought if someone sees the value of an argument, they would say it makes sense. I learned it takes a lot more than that."

The swing vote on his first council, he quickly found out that while then-Mayor Dennis Callahan didn't like him, the mayor was willing to support his initiatives in exchange for his vote on other issues. Eventually, the two became allies; in the 1993 mayoral election, Mr. Snowden did everything he could to help Mr. Callahan defeat Al Hopkins.

Mr. Hopkins has a long memory, so when he won it looked as if Mr. Snowden might be in for a bit of trouble. And yet, the two have been voting together in favor of controversial legislation to make life easier for downtown restaurants. Yesterday's adversary is today's ally.

It's doubtful, of course, whether Mr. Snowden's silver tongue will turn Ward 1 residents and preservationists, who talk about Mr. Snowden as if he has sprouted horns and a tail, into friends by the 1997 election.

A whole new base

No matter. He says he believes he's right. And anyway, his pro-business stance has brought him a whole new base of support, probably more powerful than his new enemies. All of a sudden, Carl Snowden isn't just the voice of minorities and liberals. He's the finance committee chairman, the council's voice of fiscal prudence. He's got economic conservatives and business people on his side now -- voters he will need if he stands a chance in 1997.

He won't have an easy time getting elected, of course, especially in a two-person general election campaign against a good Republican. "There's no middle ground with Carl," Mr. Moyer says. "You either love him and respect him, or really dislike him."

Personally, Mr. Moyer says, "I think he would be a fantastic mayor. He gets things done. He makes government work, and that's not easy to do today."

Elise Armacost is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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