BALTIMORE, SEPT. 16 -- There are a number of theories about how State's Attorney Kurt L. Schmoke blew a 30-point lead on the way to a narrow victory in Tuesday's Baltimore Democratic mayoral primary: that he was too cautious, that he was too cool, that he refused to attack his opponent, that he was too much of a yuppie for a blue-collar town.

But Schmoke wasn't interested today in dissecting his 4 percentage-point victory over Mayor Clarence H. (Du) Burns, which almost assures him of being the city's first black elected mayor. It's "like taking the bar exam," said the 37-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer. "They don't ask you what your score is; they ask did you win or lose."

Schmoke must face Republican Samuel A. Culotta in the general election on Nov. 3, but registered Democrats outnumber GOP voters by 9 to 1 in the city. Even Schmoke's political enemies believe he will be the city's next mayor. Now it will be up to Schmoke to show whether he is long on polish and short on specifics, as his detractors claim, or the extraordinary package of accomplishments and potential his admirers see.

Everyone agrees that Tuesday's elections provided a major realignment of Baltimore city politics after four terms of the powerful William Donald Schaefer. Precinct reports and interviews revealed that the neighborhood organizations and white political clubs that supplied Schaefer with resounding victories didn't have the same enthusiasm for Burns, who became the city's first black mayor when he was elevated to the office from the City Council presidency after Schaefer became governor in January.

Schaefer dislikes and campaigned against Schmoke and Mary Pat Clarke, whose grass-roots organization made the difference in her successful bid for City Council president. The election of political independents to head a city government long dominated by traditional political organizations certainly will bring change, but Schmoke was reluctant to say how much.

The close vote suggested that Baltimoreans "wanted a change but they didn't want a revolution," Schmoke said at a morning-after news conference. "They were not interested in a radical departure" from the Schaefer-Burns years, just "new leadership." Schmoke pledged "balanced growth" for the city, meaning new development in the downtown commercial core and in the residential neighborhoods, but would not get into specifics.

He has declared that improving the city's oft-criticized educational system will be a priority, as well as providing more low-income housing and better health care for the poor. Schmoke said in an interview before the election that there is agreement that the city's downtown rebirth has to be coupled with improvements in city services.

"There are a lot of people who say this is an issueless campaign, but it's more than there is a consensus on what must be done," Schmoke said.

It is expected that Schmoke will be more eager to work with the leaders of the state's other political jurisdictions than was Schaefer, who as mayor was defensive and protective of his hometown. Schmoke said that Baltimore, one of the poorest jurisdictions in the state, needs the help of the state and the support of other areas and he already has met with county executives in the Washington suburbs.

But the first relationship Schmoke must repair is with Schaefer.

Schmoke put the best face on the situation yesterday. "I think my relationship with the governor will be businesslike and professional," he said. "If you look at the years we've overlapped {in city government}, whenever I asked him for vital programs he always came through."

Schaefer, known as an unforgiving politician, didn't remember things that way. "I never saw him. He never bothered to contact me at all," said Schaefer, who said he has had "very serious differences -- and I mean serious" with Schmoke. Asked if the city might suffer because of the disagreements between the two, Schaefer said he didn't know.

Election results show that it was the black vote that provided the key to victory for Schmoke, just as it had in his first race, a 1982 upset of the conservative white incumbent state's attorney.

Schmoke made a poor showing in the white working-class neighborhoods that are the heart of the city's political organizations, but turnout there was much lower than normal. Of the six council districts in Baltimore, Schmoke lost all three that are predominantly white, two of them by wide margins. Political observers have said all along that the city's conservative Democratic, white ethnic enclaves viewed Schmoke as a frilly upstart, while 69-year-old Burns, a rough-spoken toiler in the Schaefer administration for 15 years, was seen at least as a well-known face.

Some have said the election marks the end of machine politics, but Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor and a student of city politics, isn't so sure. Burns probably would not have made it so close without the support of the political clubs, he said. "I don't know what's going to happen to the political organizations, but it's also too early to write them off," Crenson said.