At 4 o'clock in the afternoon on election day, when he saw the long dusty lines of voters spiraling around the polling places in West Baltimore's predominantly black precincts, Kurt Schmoke knew something momentous was happening.
Blacks were turning out in unprecedented numbers. They would go on that night to give Schmoke, a 32-year-old black attorney, a towering victory over longtime white incumbent city prosecutor William A. Swisher, creating what many political observers here say is a new equation in city politics.
Schmoke swamped Swisher by 100,611 votes to 58,829, with black turnout as high as 50 percent in some precincts. Black turnout usually is only about 30 percent in nonpresidential election years.
"It's a tremendous tribute to the black community, and it does change politics in this city," Schmoke said afterwards.
"They woke up the sleeping giant," he later told a Baltimore newspaper reporter.
The long-fought election battle had pitted Swisher, 49, a tough law-and-order advocate and favorite son of Baltimore's old-line blue collar political clubs, against Schmoke, an Ivy League law graduate, Rhodes scholar and member of Piper & Marbury, a prominent downtown establishment law firm.
Although throughout the campaign Schmoke had maintained that he expected to win with a combination of black votes and white liberal support, he said he was "stunned . . . overwhelmed" by the huge margin of victory. "I originally predicted I would win by 2,000 votes," he said.
He attributed the unusual outpouring of black voters to a number of factors, including from-the-pulpit endorsements by black ministers, support from such prominent Baltimore figures as state Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs and Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.) and extensive publicity by the city's newspapers.
There were other grass-roots tactics that helped, too, Schmoke said. Chicken George, a chain of black-oriented fast food outlets, distributed more than 26,000 free chicken dinners on election day to customers showing their voter registration cards. And the Improvement Association of Murphy Homes, a sprawling black public housing project in West Baltimore, offered free spaghetti dinners to residents who voted.
The Chicken George and Murphy Homes campaigns were billed as nonpartisan, get-out-the-vote efforts, with no mention of candidates' names.
But, as Schmoke said of the thousands of voters the two campaigns apparently generated: "They weren't just coming out to vote for governor."
Organizers of both efforts said they developed their strategies independently of Schmoke. "We felt we should be good citizens by encouraging other people to be good citizens," said Chicken George spokesman Joe Kennedy.
In addition, Schmoke said, his campaign used about 75 trucks and vans donated by black businesses and churches to transport voters to the polls. He said the vehicles were used primarily to unsnarl problems created by recent legislative redistricting that caused many voters inadvertently to go to the wrong polling places.
Schmoke's name will appear on the ballot in November, but there is no Republican candidate. Barring a write-in upset, his election is assured.
Once in office next January, Schmoke said, he plans to carry through on campaign promises to improve operations in the 123-member Baltimore state's attorney's office. These include creating a 12- to 15-member staff of trial assistants to work exclusively on narcotics prosecutions, and abolishing the longstanding policy of permitting staff attorneys to earn outside income.