BALTIMORE -- The women came straight from Sunday church service wearing flowered straw hats and patent leather high heels. The men wore bow ties and double-breasted suits. They shouted, waved their hands in time to the music and indulged in a holy dance or two when the choirs took to the stage.
The scene was a typical gospel show. But the rousing afternoon extravaganza in Baltimore's arena also doubled as an unusual political fund-raiser for Jacqueline McLean, a one-term Baltimore City Council member who eschewed a straw hat in favor of a light-blue suit and campaign pearls.
"I have no intention of standing here and making any kind of political speech," she told the polite church-going crowd during an intermission. "This is not that kind of affair."
Although it is common for candidates in cities in which the majority of the population is black such as Baltimore and the District to make weekly pilgrimages to churches to mobilize voters, McLean's concert reflected a tactic that is relatively new: going outside of the church itself to appeal to black churchgoers, and even to raise money for campaigns.
In Baltimore, black votes have become so prized and competition among black candidates so great that campaign planners say conventional methods can no longer be depended upon to win elections.
"The church is certainly one of the most important elements in the community to reach out to, and there is a lot of evidence that black churchgoers vote at a higher rate than blacks who don't go to church normally," said Thomas E. Cavanaugh, a senior research associate with the Committee on the Status of Black Americans at the National Research Council in Washington.
At Sunday's concert, each potential voter received a program that included a full-page black-and-white photograph of McLean as well as smaller studio shots of nationally known gospel recording artists James Cleveland and Shirley Caesar. At a cost of $12.50 a ticket, gospel music lovers who were lured downtown on a perfect back yard Sunday afternoon by radio ads and church fliers also got to see the New Jersey Mass Choir, Calvin Bridges and the Melodyaires.
Getting to see McLean, campaign organizers hoped, would be an extra bonus.
Throughout an afternoon of charged performances before an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 people in the arena, McLean added a new twist to an old appeal -- convincing stable, reliable voting churchgoers to consider her candidacy.
But this time she managed to do it without going to church.
"We've always been unorthodox," said McLean's husband James, a prominent Baltimore businessman and former concert promoter who is chairman of her campaign committee. "That's the way we always raise money."
In fact, her tactics are so unorthodox that they have raised eyebrows in political circles.
In 1982, McLean -- who runs a travel agency but had never before held public office -- won an East Baltimore council seat by beating several better-known opponents by erecting billboards, blanketing the district with literature and airing slick television advertising. She spent more than $25,000, much of it out of her own pocket. And her expensive strategy paid off, surprising opponents who had never seen so much money spent on a council race.
Her critics accused her then of buying the seat, and the charges have dogged her since. This year, James McLean says the campaign has already raised $150,000 as of the beginning of the year.
In the council president's contest, which in this 10-to-1 Democratic city for all practical purposes will be decided in the September primary, McLean, who is black, is competing against two other black candidates -- three-term legislator Larry Young, 37, and city Register of Wills Mary Conaway, 44 -- and one white, former City Council member Mary Pat Clarke, 46.
McLean's opponents are skeptical that her fund-raising strategy will work.
Young, for example, who said he was at six churches during the weekend, predicted McLean's unusual manner of appealing for church support -- which included sending plants to 30 city churches on Father's Day -- could backfire. "No particular constituency wants to be bought off," Young said.
Not many in Baltimore forget, however, that McLean won in 1982 precisely because she did things differently. And now some politicians seem determined to capitalize on her success.
Comptroller Hyman A. Pressman, as durable a Baltimore political figure as has ever held office, stood outside the concert arena Sunday pressing the flesh. Several other candidates for local office milled around inside, chatting up gospel fans during the intermission.
"This is better," said welfare rights activist Bob Cheeks, who is seeking a council seat. "And you don't have to deal with the internal church politics."
Observed McLean: "People don't mind piggybacking on a lot of things that are successful."