On election day, the west side was the kind of place where Nelson Shaw could finally get a job, if he really wanted it.
Shaw, 29, caught a Trailways bus several weeks ago from his home in Orlando, Fla. to visit his mother here in this predominantly black section of town. He said he had not worked in a few months and once he got here he lost all his money in a card game, got drunk, got into a fist fight at Mack's Satin Lounge and ended up as an inpatient at Turk House, a residental alcoholic rehabilitation center operated by University Hospital.
Shaw said he and 10 other inpatients there were awakened the morning of election day by Walter Crillen, a member of the center's executive board, who asked the men if they wanted to go to work.
"Hell, I ain't worked in so long I said sure," Shaw said, adding that the men were then handed piles of political handbills advertising a slate of candidates for the state's supreme bench. They then piled into cars and were dropped off at a few polling points throughout West Baltimore.
"I don't even know who these people are," he said. "The man said he'd give us a little something for the time. Shoot, I just want to get some cash together to get back to Florida."
That was the kind of Tuesday it was in Baltimore, city of strong neighborhoods, rundown projects and 417,862 registered voters. Only about 62 percent of those people voted for president this year -- keeping the city well below the state turnout of 72 percent -- but 189,172 of them voted for Jimmy Carter, enabling the beleaguered president to win Maryland despite a national Republican landslide and a poor showing in the rest of the state.
In this full-blooded city, Nov. 4 was a day of loudspeakers, leaflets and rain as the disparate elements of Baltimore's Democratic organization tried to pull out all the stops to bring out the votes that would preserve a tradition, if not elect a president. In black ghettoes, tight ethnic neighborhoods and middle-class Jewish suburbs the work went on, and when the polls had closed, Baltimore, at least had done its part.
In one west side precinct, a hopelessly unlucky derelict, spurred by the promise of a few bucks, handed out leaflets to voters next to two black middle-class high school girls, family friends of a local state delegate. In another a middle-aged black woman, a Baltimore board of education employee and resident of a west side slum known as Harlem Park, tooled her cream colored Ford through neighborhood sidestreets, shouting at young street toughs hanging outside closed bars and corner saloons that if they didn't head for the polls she would run them down.
But on a day of leaden skies and a steady rain that threw a dreary pall over the city and kept most residents -- including the neighborhood's legions of unemployed -- indoors, perhaps the most effective means of grabbing voter attention was the most traditional -- a car, a loudspeaker and noise, noise, noise.
Jim Mosley, a United Auto Workers local vice-president, had orders from the Carter-Mondale people to play a party tape, move slowly through the streets, park at busy intersections for 3-5 minutes, and, of course, to never leave the car alone.
This was terribly patronizing stuff from young white party workers to a black man who has been hammering posters, knocking on doors and handing out leaflets in the ghetto on behalf of Democrats for nearly 35 years, so when a young aide handed him a tape with something called Three Dog Night on it, he told them where to get off.
"Where I'm going, no way I'm gonna play that," he said. So Mosley, sitting low over the steering wheel, a big, floppy, camel hair Bowery Boy hat on his head, drove slowly through the rains-licked streets and from the loudspeakers came Ray Charles and America the Beautiful, a soulful background jam for the taped voices of Edward Kennedy, Coretta King, Andrew Young, Tom Bradley and Jesse Jackson.
"Under slavery everybody had a job," Jackson shouted, his oratory echoing through clusters of brick tenements. "When Ronald Reagan says bring back the good old days he may be serious."
That line usually brought a smile or laugh from folks on the corners, huddling away from the rain in storefronts. But it was the music that caught everyone's ears. Faces peeped out of the windows and children in raincoats danced as the car slowly passed. Occasionally, someone would flag Mosley's car down and ask him questions about the election -- where the nearest polling place was, could one vote if he lost his registration card, and Mosley was always there with an answer, puncutated by a friendly "Brah."
It was in Harlem Park that Carolyn Brown, the board of education employe, flagged Mosley down, saying she had run out of sample ballots.
"One old guy -- he must have been 80 -- thought I was crazy," she said. "I saw him going real slow up the street. So I stopped and asked him if he wanted a lift so he could vote, but he just waved me away.
"I thought, apathy or booze, right? Well, I get to the voting booth and I'm there awhile, and a half hour later he stumbles in," she went on. "I looked at him and smiled and he remembered me. He said thanks for offering the ride, but in West Baltimore, I don't take nothin from nobody.'"
On the other side of town, in east Baltimore, the melting pot of Poles, Italians, Ukranians and Appalachian mountain people, Dominic (Mimi) DePietro, Central Casting's vision of a political boss, was waxing philosophic.
"On my God," said the 75-year-old DePietro, "another day, another election. God bless America."
From 7 in the morning until 8 at night, the gregarious city councilman cruised his political fiefdom in a shiny black Cadillac with gray velvet upholstery. An overcast morning turned to rain later in the day, "Democratic weather," he said publicly, pivately cursing its potential effect on an already chilled electorate.
There was, it turned out, heavy voting in most of Mimi's polling areas, a hopeful sign, according to conventional wisdom, for the Democrats.
But as the diminutive DePietro went from precinct to precinct his disappointment began to show. For one thing, in many neighborhoods, the number of campaign workers was smaller than in previous elections. He blamed the problem on a 1979 state law banning the payment of "walk-around money" -- long a staple of Maryland politics -- on election day.
This year, campaign workers were paid. Oct. 23 up to $15 each -- to paper their precincts before Nov. 4. The lure of an election night party at Bud's Crab House had not been enough, it appeared, to turn these campaign workers into "volunteers" on election day.
Some of the volunteers who did turn out weren't up to Mimi's standards. He lambasted several who sat inside their cars and scolded another who engaged in apolitical conversation while voters walked by: "Freddy, there goes another ballot away from you. I can't understand what the hell you're doing."
The day began better for DePietro than it ended, though. At one polling place across from Patterson Park, the DePietro magic worked like a charm. Russell Brubach, 71, entered the polls with a Reagan button pinned to his cap. Mimi followed, telling Brubach only of his support for Carter. "He said, I'm gonna give you everyone but that,'" DePietro reported. Moments later, Brubach emerged to report Mimi had changed his mind.
"You never steered anybody wrong," Brubach told Mimi. "You're a good paisan."
As Brubach walked away, other voters spotted styrofoam hats in Mimi's back seat, saved for campaign workers but nonetheless in great demand. After four or five had been handed out, DePietro commanded his driver, "Next time, don't park in front of a poll. They see all these hats, they think they own 'em."
When all the votes were tallied, Mimi could say, even though President Carter suffered a landslide loss nationwide, "My neighborhood did good. Everyone won their precincts." That was the good news. The bad news was the margin.
Mimi had hoped to carry his own precinct by 3- or 4- to 1 for Carter.Instead, the majority was a mere 2 to 1, 406 for Carter compared to 189 for Reagan.
"I'm feeling bad," Mimi said at day's end. "But this Reagan," he said, meaning Carter, "had so many things against him. They voted for Reagan to take it out."
In far northwest Baltimore, the legislative district personally manned by the Democratic party's state chairman and executive director would have bereft of a last day Carter drive if it had not been for Robert Tweedy.
Tweedy, a local contractor, closed his office Tuesday morning, volunteered his car and his time to the Democratic organization, and urged his 15 employes to do the same.
So Kim Stegman, a young clerical worker from Dundalk, spent the day with her friend, Cindy, ferrying Democratic voters on the clogged, rain-swept suburban boulevards between the Northwest Senior Citizens Center and the polls at Falstaff Middle School and Northwest High School.
"I'd rather stayed home with my head under the covers," Stegman said at mid-morning as she gazed at the autos fighting for position in the parking lot outside the seniors' center.
But the work of Stegman and the other volunteers in the middle-class, heavily Jewish northwest Baltimore was important to the Democrats' winning strategy. In this slice of the city, where lush, gently aging neighborhoods are interspersed with garish strips of gas stations and decrepit shopping centers, senior citizens form a central part of the electoratge, and the Democratic organizations devote most of their election-day energy to getting these characteristically loyal voters to the polls.
The headquarters of the 42nd district's operations this year was the home of Rosalie Abrams, the district's state senator and the state party's chairman. Barbara Hoffman, the state party's executive director, also was working the 42nd, which in recent years hs been the home base of state House Speaker Benjamin Cardin, Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, and former Governor Marvin Mandel.
In such a nest of Democratic leaders, orgnization prevailed. Hoffman and Sandy Skolnick, another district activist, had mimeographed lists of all the homes, centers and apartment buildingsd where senior citizens could be found and divided them up among their Tweedy drivers.The locations on the list already had been plastered with signs advertising the ride service and the headquarters phone number.
As voters called in for rides, their names meticulously were entered on mimeographed forms and then organized into groups that could be taken to a polling place in one trip by a driver. The drivers had a seven-point instruction sheet, reproduced in green Carter-Mondale ink.
Not all of this preplanning was manifested in the dreary downpour around the polling places, though. There appeared to be no Carter poll workers -- "the Carter campaign was taking care of that," explained Hoffman -- and Stegman had no literature to distributer to her riders, much less a pitch to make.
The senior citizens who waited for rides at the Northwest seniors' center and in the apartment high-rises of the 42nd appeared to need little urging. "Of course I'm voting for Carter," said Issac Davies, a hobbled, spirited old man that Stegman guided to the long voting lines at Northwest High School. "He's got the experience now, and besides, he's the Democrat."