Schmoke leaving? Rumors are flying Talk is of post in Clinton Cabinet; mayor says he'll stay


Now that the general election is over, the unanswered question around the water coolers in Baltimore City Hall is this: When will Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke leave for a top post in the Clinton Administration?

Never mind that Schmoke says flat-out he is not going anywhere. The political rumor mill is in high gear, churning out a variety of potential appointments: housing secretary, education secretary and a federal judgeship, just to name a few.

That, in turn, has sparked more rumors about City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, who is next in line to be mayor. Bell is said to be so sure that that Schmoke is leaving he has put together a transition team to ease his move into the city's top political slot.

Yesterday, Bell was vague about whether he has assembled a team. But he did say he has noticed that heads of city agencies are being nicer to him lately.

"I attribute that to their commitment to see the city move forward," he said. "I have to assume that" is the reason.

The mayor makes light of the idea of a big government job in Washington.

"Rumors of my going to the Clinton-Gore administration are greatly exaggerated," he said yesterday. Earlier in the week, he said he would be in Baltimore "through the next millennium."

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, a key Schmoke ally, said last week that the rumors "are just wishful thinking on the part of some people."

Behind all of the speculation is a close relationship with the Clintons. Schmoke is a friend and avid supporter of President Clinton, both are former Rhodes scholars, and Schmoke went to law school with Hillary Clinton.

Those personal and political ties have helped Baltimore win $100 million for an empowerment zone and millions more to demolish and rebuild public housing.

All of that makes Baltimore's mayor a likely bet for Clinton's short list of candidates for vacant Cabinet posts.

So the chatter goes on. From city department heads to middle management to the support staff, everyone has heard a Schmoke-to-Washington scenario.

The most popular is that he will take the place of Housing and Urban Development Chief Henry G. Cisneros, who has not formally resigned.

Then there is the one that has Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes being appointed to a federal judgeship -- perhaps even to the Supreme Court -- and Schmoke being named to take his place in the PTC Senate. And the one that has Schmoke getting the judgeship.

Another has Schmoke at the helm of the nation's schools as secretary of education, replacing Richard W. Riley. That comes despite the ill-fated Education Alternatives Inc. experiment, which Schmoke was able to profit from because of the national attention EAI brought the city.

"We have our own little soap opera going on over here," said Anthony J. Ambridge, the city real estate officer and a former longtime city councilman "There is never a source for this, just a figment that takes a life unto itself that builds and builds into this frenzy."

Few at City Hall were willing to speak publicly for fear of starting unfounded rumors.

"Why would the mayor want to stay here in Baltimore?" said Nick, a public works manager who wanted only his first name used. "The city is becoming too hard to manage, and now would be a good time to bail."

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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