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Schmoke flexes comic muscles Mayor defends city by exchanging barbs with TV host Leno


Baltimore ranks No. 1 in the nation for its gonorrhea rate, but Los Angeles is "determined to take the title," or so claims Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who took a few shots at "The Tonight Show" host Jay Leno last night for his wisecracks about rampant venereal disease in the crown city of the Patapsco.

"He looks a little mad," Leno said in introducing Schmoke, who joined the show via satellite from Baltimore's WBAL-TV Channel 11.

Leno opened fire on Baltimore Tuesday after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released a report showing that Baltimore topped the nation in its syphilis rate with 669 cases (or 99 cases for every 100,000 residents) and its gonorrhea rate with 6,693 cases (or 991 cases per 100,000).

Leno called Baltimore the city where no one "sleeps alone" and a great city for crabs. On Thursday, he suggested that the locals might want to change the city's name to "Balti-sore."

Schmoke, often viewed as an aloof intellectual, would have none of it, deciding to step into the ring for a few rounds with Leno so as not to leave the national television host's comments unchecked.

"I'm upset by your jokes about Baltimore," said Schmoke, wearing a purple Ravens cap and a black and orange Oriole jacket for the broadcast. "I feel you've besmirched our good name."

Leno replied sarcastically, "Gee, I didn't realize."

As a gesture of goodwill, the television host agreed to say good things about Baltimore and said, "In the interest of fairness, I'd like you to say something about Los Angeles."

It set off a series of one-liners by Schmoke that left Leno's town as the loser -- all scripted by "The Tonight Show" writers, of course.

Leno: "Baltimore is loaded with history."

Schmoke: "L.A., loaded with silicone."

Leno: "Baltimore was heartbroken when the Colts left."

Schmoke: "L.A. has yet to notice that the Rams and Raiders have left."

Leno: "Baltimore became a city in 1797."

Schmoke: "L.A., girls 17 being hit on by guys 97."

After the volley, Schmoke said he felt he had fared reasonably well but that he isn't looking to rush to Los Angeles to start a new career. "I think I better keep my day job," he said.

Schmoke's decision to challenge Leno would have been unlikely a year ago, but since he decided last week that next year will be his last in office, the mayor appears to be lightening up his management style.

Not since Schmoke challenged eight other mayors in HBO's Funniest Mayor competition -- he placed third -- has he taken center stage on the comedy scene.

He had indicated this week that he wanted to show that Baltimore was making progress in controlling the spread of venereal diseases.

Gonorrhea cases have dropped from 12,800 in 1991 to 6,693 in 1997. This year, syphilis cases are 170 below last year's total of 669.

Once the cameras were rolling, Schmoke didn't get a chance to spout the improving figures. It wasn't in the script.

He did redeem the city in one area, though: "We do have great crabs," Schmoke said as he held up a crab from Faidley's Seafood in Lexington Market. "But they're hard-shell crabs."

The only Leno joke that seemed to sting Schmoke was when the host made fun of the mayor's name.

Relieved when it was over, the mayor took off his hat and said, "Hopefully, [Leno has] had his few days of Baltimore and gonorrhea."

Pub Date: 12/12/98

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