On a rainy night before a crowd of 75 in a West Baltimore church, Republican challenger Victor Clark Jr. met Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in what is likely to be their only debate before the Nov. 7 election.
Yesterday's forum at St. Mark's Institutional Baptist Church was arranged by Mr. Clark's campaign after his workers learned when Mr. Schmoke would be available.
The audience was mostly Schmoke supporters, judging by the applause for his answers and the silence that greeted Mr. Clark's. The forum was not broadcast on television or radio because it was arranged so late, Mr. Clark said.
Still, Mr. Schmoke was gracious toward his opponent, thanking him for arranging the forum in his opening statement. And Mr. Clark, a 50-year-old accountant and car salesman, seemed happy for the chance to be heard.
"I'm asking Baltimore to look at someone who thinks a little differently, who acts a little differently and who puts forward new ideas," he said.
Mr. Clark and Mr. Schmoke stood at wooden lecterns at either side of the sanctuary of the church, with a mural of the Risen Christ providing a backdrop. As Mr. Clark began his opening statement, he discovered his microphone was not working and continued without it, his voice echoing in the church.
In the interest of fair play, Mr. Schmoke turned his mike off after his opening statement.
During the hourlong forum, Mr. Clark said that he had accepted the general direction of the national Republican Party, but also said he agreed in principle with affirmative action, although he did not believe in specific goals and quotas.
"What we want to do in the Clark administration is to hook up with the new ideas that are emerging" from the national GOP. Not to do so, he said, will put Baltimore behind the rest of the country.
Mr. Clark said that making sure the city buys goods and services from Baltimore firms is more important than setting aside contracts for minorities.
Mr. Schmoke attacked the proposed Republican budget that would reduce the increases in some entitlement programs, shift some programs to the states and eliminate money for summer jobs for inner-city youth, a cut that will affect Baltimore directly.
The mayor played up his friendship with President Clinton and other federal officials, relationships that have borne fruit, including empowerment zone money and funds to demolish the Lafayette Courts public housing high-rises.
"Baltimore needs partners if we are to move forward," Mr. Schmoke said. "In my 7 1/2 years in leadership, you have seen how these partnerships have paid off."
Mr. Clark helped to found the Baltimore Coalition to Stop the Killing, and serves on the board of Save Another Youth, a group that helps troubled teen-agers. He said his administration will focus on the problems of Baltimore's youths.
"What I want to see is an invigoration of our young people to become more involved in the political process," he said.
He said the slogan of his administration would be "The city that youths lead."