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Schmoke is facing challenge from Bell Power maneuvering seen in sessions with council nominees


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's political power inside a sharply changing Baltimore City Council is being challenged by council president nominee Lawrence A. Bell's efforts to put his own stamp on the legislative panel.

Mr. Bell and Mr. Schmoke in the past few weeks have conducted a series of sessions with most of the 18 Democratic primary winners for the council, which will see at least a third of the members change in the Nov 7 election. The sessions, touted as meet-and-greet meetings, have not gone unnoticed by both camps seeking a majority bloc of votes to push through pet legislation.

Making maneuvers more tenuous are declarations by both men that they want to start the this new term with a clean slate after RTC having been vociferous opponents for four years. If one side is seen as too aggressive or divisive, it could spark mistrust and jeopardize peace efforts.

Also in the backdrop is the race for council vice president. Of the three interested in the position, the mayor prefers 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, widely known as a critic of Mr. Bell. Mrs. Dixon would be the last choice for Mr. Bell, who also hails from the 4th District. The council elects the vice president.

Mr. Bell said his aim is to see how independent-minded the council nominees are. He said he wants to gauge from the meetings how they will vote, not persuade them to vote with him.

Mr. Bell said the meetings will continue in the weeks ahead when he will talk about his vision for the city.

"I'm asking them to be helpful, open and communicate with me one-on-one," he said. "It doesn't take long to discover how people operate, but I'm very optimistic about this new council. There is a lot of promise with the new folks."

Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley, an ardent Bell supporter, said the new council -- to start in December -- is shaping up as a more independent body than before. He speculated that the mayor didn't foresee so many of his supporters being replaced.

"I think the mayor is playing catch-up," Mr. O'Malley said.

Four of the mayor's strongest supporters will not return to office -- Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, Joseph J. DiBlasi, Vera P. Hall and Iris G. Reeves. Fifth District Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, a former Schmoke administration supporter, has quietly moved out of the fold. She did not support the mayor in last month's Democratic primary election.

What's left are the seven primary winners poised to take a council seat.

Save for 2nd District nominee Robert L. Douglass, who said that he would become a Schmoke administration supporter as a councilman, the primary winners said they wouldn't pick sides. They are Robert W. Curran and Joan Carter Conway of the 3rd District; Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., 4th District; Helen L. Holton and Stephanie C. Rawlings, 5th District; and Edward L. Reisinger, 6th District.

The nominees said that their meetings with Mr. Bell and Mr. Schmoke did not focus on which side they would support. But Mr. Mitchell, who has no Republican opposition, said there were "subtleties" in the meetings with the two men.

"They let me know that they would be around if I needed help. I let them know that I'm not going to be in anyone's back pocket," Mr. Mitchell said.

Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District councilman and candidate for council vice president, said it was too early for the mayor and Mr. Bell to shore up council support.

"It's premature. We have to get through the general election," Mr. Ambridge said.

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