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Schaefer coy on mayoral ambition; Schmoke says denials 'just a smoke screen'


State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer just stepped into his new job this week after a four-year hiatus from public office, and there are already rumblings about the 77-year-old's running for mayor again.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said in a recent interview that he believes Schaefer will enter the race if the number of black candidates continues to increase. A field of three or more blacks in a city that is 60 percent black could split the vote and possibly give Schaefer an advantage, Schmoke said.

"I'm absolutely convinced that if there are three or more [black] candidates in the Democratic primary, he will file in the last week before the deadline," Schmoke said. "All of his denials, to me, are just a smoke screen."

Schaefer said Schmoke isn't telling the whole story.

"He's said if I'm running, he'll run again," Schaefer said. "Have you heard that?"

"I'll tell you one thing," the former mayor and governor said. "If I were mayor, there would be changes from top to bottom. There are so many things the city needs."

The two men have been feuding for years, their animosity tempered only by a few brief rapprochements. After the "do-it-now" Schaefer left City Hall for the gover- nor's mansion in 1986, he rarely had a kind word for his button-down, Ivy League successor.

In 1995, when Maryland's two-term limit for governors forced him into a restless retirement, Schaefer flirted with challenging Schmoke's bid for a third term as Baltimore mayor.

He did not enter the race but made it clear he thought Schmoke was not doing as good a job as he had done.

Schmoke announced in December that he would not seek another term. Since then, almost a dozen people have joined or expressed interest in the mayoral competition.

In the past three decades, Schaefer or Schmoke has run the city for all but two years. Former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said it's now "time for the next generation" to lead the city.

But there's no question that Schmoke and Schaefer will have an effect on who that leader will be.

Schmoke has said he plans to wait until the filing deadline for candidates in July to decide whom he will support -- if he backs anyone. But he continues to play political games with such issues as a possible Schaefer candidacy.

Schaefer's focus on city affairs since he became comptroller has fueled speculation that he intends to run for mayor. He spent the past week taking shots at Schmoke. The first came during his inauguration Monday, when he called for a state takeover of the Convention Center because, he said, the mayor hasn't been aggressive in drumming up business.

"The mayor is not a cheerleader," Schaefer said of Schmoke. "You've got to be a cheerleader to get conventions."

Three days later, Schaefer tried to use his influence to stop the city from selling some of the historical properties that made up the failed Baltimore City Life Museums. He wrote a letter to Schmoke and issued a news release protesting the plan.

Those statements have reinforced Schmoke's conviction that Schaefer wants to be mayor again.

"He loved the job of mayor," Schmoke said. "He was happy in it. And he doesn't think I've been a very good mayor. He feels the city needs his kind of leadership."

Schaefer won't argue with Schmoke on that point. He said the city could turn around. On the west side, he noted, Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, the University of Maryland and others are working together. "A mayor who understands the business community could do a tremendous job," he said.

Responding to the mayor's criticism that he was "meddling," Schaefer said, "Somebody needs to meddle, because you have deterioration in the neighborhoods, businesses leaving, murders in the streets. If that's meddling to help him, I'm glad to meddle."

Even so, Schaefer remains coy about his prospects of getting into the mayoral campaign.

All he would say was, "I don't think everyone's in the race yet."

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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