BALTIMORE -- For the first time in 32 years, Baltimore is holding an election and William Donald Schaefer's name won't be on the ballot.

Tuesday's primary elections will determine Baltimore's next generation of leaders, officially closing Schaefer's domination of the city he ruled for 15 years from the mayor's office.

But just because Schaefer occupies the governor's office in Annapolis does not mean he has abandoned city politics. Turn on the television and he's praising a candidate for City Council president. Open the newspaper and he's endorsing his choice for mayor. He urges his wealthy friends to open their checkbooks, canvasses neighborhoods for City Council candidates -- he's even become a campaign issue.

Whether his favorites will win, especially in the top two city offices, is another question. Without denigrating Schaefer's popularity, some see Tuesday's vote as a test of the power of personal endorsements and the grip of political organizations that traditionally have run city government.

It's the old versus the new, and at this point, the new is favored.

State's Attorney Kurt L. Schmoke, a formidable young politician with an enthusiastic grass-roots organization, has led incumbent Clarence H. (Du) Burns all the way in the Democratic primary for mayor. Although new polls show his lead diminishing, Schmoke is the odds-on favorite to win.

The elections, said City Council member Jody Landers, will "further confirm what I think has been a trend in Baltimore for a number of years toward a significantly increased role of neighborhood groups and a more independent type of candidate."

"It's not like the old days, when you had someone {who controlled} precincts and people just marched in and voted the way they were told."

Schaefer has played down the importance of endorsements, saying he doesn't trust people who promise votes other than their own. Some see his activities as a mark of loyalty rather than a conviction that he can continue to dominate city politics. But that has not stopped him from making his feelings on the election clear.

For mayor, he is supporting his loyal lieutenant, Burns, the former City Council president who was elevated by law to the mayor's office when Schaefer became governor. For Burns' old job, Schaefer is backing former state senator Harry J. McGuirk, an old-style Baltimore politician and one-time gubernatorial candidate who is the embodiment of the city's political machines and its neighborhood political clubs.

The City Council president's race is considered a tossup, with former council member Mary Pat Clarke and Del. Larry Young considered the leading contenders. Young, however, hit a snag last week after conceding that his resume listed false academic credentials.

It is no secret that Schaefer dislikes Schmoke, and that McGuirk entered the City Council president's race literally at the last hour because Schaefer doesn't get along with either of the other candidates. And if it is puzzling to some politicians that Baltimoreans who supported Schaefer for years seem ready to turn over the reins of the city to people Schaefer doesn't like, some voters haven't given it much thought.

"You have to vote for the best person," said Mark Johnson, a bank employe who is voting for Schmoke. Johnson, having a drink after work at Harborplace, said he admires Schaefer for transforming Baltimore's downtown and voted for Schaefer for governor. But Schaefer's support of Burns is "political loyalty," according to Johnson, who said he never considered the endorsement in making his choice.

For others, especially some black voters, Tuesday's election has historical significance.

Because Democrats outnumber Republicans 9 to 1 in the city, winning the primary is tantamount to election and with a choice of Schmoke or Burns, Baltimore will elect its first black mayor. The city is about 55 percent black.

To Laverne Lockett, it will be a generational choice. She respects Burns, 68, as a pioneer who brought blacks into the political system. He put together a black political organization that couldn't be ignored, made sure his neighborhoods were taken care of, rose from high school locker room attendant to mayor.

She admires Schmoke, 37, as a role model for a new generation. He moved through the city schools to Yale and Harvard Law School, was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, worked for a blue-chip law firm and was chosen for a policy position at the Carter White House. Relying on strong grass-roots support, he upset a white incumbent in his first bid for state's attorney in 1982.

"I'm hanging in the middle," Lockett said from the front porch of her row house just a few blocks from Burns' home. "It's a very tough choice."

At 31, she identifies with Schmoke's youth and she likes his vow to improve the city's schools. But she campaigned for Burns when she was 15, and she hasn't forgotten his contributions.

"I probably won't make up my mind until I walk in the booth," she said.

Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr., who overcame opposition from the Burns organization to win reelection last year, says the choice is between the "rising star and the setting sun." But he says blacks still will be divided.

Burns is hoping Schaefer's support will help him with the ethnic whites who for years have played a key role in city elections. McGuirk, whose behind-the-scenes political manipulations have earned him the nickname "Soft Shoes," is hitching his star to Schaefer more than any other candidate.

Schaefer endorses McGuirk in television ads and appears in photos on campaign literature, and McGuirk touts the relationship at every opportunity.

Sen. George Della, a South Baltimore politician who supports Burns and McGuirk, contends that Schaefer can bring voters to a candidate "by the power of his personality."

For his part, Schaefer says he has never believed in the power of endorsements from politicians. "My endorsement is going to get me to vote for Du Burns," he said, adding that he agreed with another's observation that even at the peak of his influence in the city, Schaefer's support was worth only a few percentage points.

Schmoke also plays down the importance, saying he believes voters want "an independent mayor," even if it means being independent of Schaefer.

"Why he has a personal dislike for me, I don't know," Schmoke said in a recent interview. "But, frankly, I don't lose any sleep over it."

Other candidates not endorsed by Schaefer take a similar view. "Our polls have told us the governor is really not much of a factor anymore," said Young campaign manager Michael Richardson. He acknowledges, though, that Young made some videotapes with Schaefer at the end of the legislative session, but couldn't use them after Schaefer endorsed McGuirk.

Many city politicians believe that Schaefer's support was the key to Burns' victory in 1983 over Clarke to win the council presidency. But the difference then was that Schaefer was at the top of the ballot.

Sen. Barbara Hoffman (D-Baltimore) says that Schaefer is still extremely popular in the city, "but once you're out of the field, you're out of the field."

Others point out that Schaefer's support in the city came from what one supporter called an "idiosyncratic network" of neighborhood organizations and political clubs, but that he never put together a real political machine that could deliver for a candidate other than himself.

Della agrees with that. "Contrary to popular belief, Schaefer is not a political animal," he said. "He has people who put his campaigns together. I don't think he would know how to do it himself."

But Della contends that the people who put together campaigns for Schaefer are now working for Burns and McGuirk. One thing Schaefer has done for both men is to help them raise money, and observers say they are putting a substantial portion of it "on the street," to be used for workers who will make sure voters get to the polls in the organized neighborhoods of the city.

Any increase in voters going to the polls to vote for McGuirk is thought to help Burns. That appears true in Highlandtown, an ethnic neighborhood in East Baltimore, where store windows are decorated with the images of McGuirk and Burns and are covered with signs for the City Council ticket headed by 82-year-old council member Dominic (Mimi) DiPietro.

DiPietro provided the most controversy of the campaign by saying that Schmoke couldn't understand the problems of poor people because he used to live with "the rich Jews" in "Jew Town." Most observers don't believe that will hurt DiPietro's chance for reelection, and one voter, taking in an early evening breeze on his stoop off Eastern Avenue, said everyone he knows will be voting the same way.

"Burns, Harry, Hy {longtime Comptroller Hyman Pressman}" and the DiPietro ticket, he said.

But others say that it is difficult to win citywide races on the strength of political organizations independent of each other. And Della concedes that it is harder to work up enthusiasm for Burns than it was for Schaefer.

"Political clubs, as I like to call them, are good and viable," Della said. "But this year you do not have a white at the top of the ticket. What I have felt is that there is no excitement in the white community."

Still, Della said, the organizations will be able to get hard-core supporters to the polls. If there's a low turnout, he said, that also will help Burns.

He's hoping for rain.