Two potential mayoral candidates have taken aim at Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke over his handling of the Richard C. Hunter affair.
"I think it may be disastrous for the mayor," said Boyse Mosley, the outspoken principal of Northwestern Senior High School who is considering running for mayor. "This could lead to the defeat of the mayor in the upcoming elections."
Former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns, who was defeated by Schmoke in 1987, agreed that the mayor is vulnerable on the Hunter issue.
Burns said he would make it a campaign issue if he decides to challenge Schmoke. "It's a legitimate beef. I could twist it around and use it to my advantage."
Burns said he will run if he can raise between $300,000 and $400,000.
Schmoke acknowledges that he took a political risk by asking the school board to dump Hunter when the superintendent's contract ends next July.
"This thing can be characterized a lot of ways, depending on who runs against me," Schmoke said. "Whatever I do, education will be an issue."
Mosley, who faulted Hunter's performance on a number of issues, said Schmoke should have moved much sooner to replace the superintendent.
"It was another case of his indecision," he said of Schmoke. "He vacillated . . . and he postponed a decision that was inevitable."
Mosley suggested that Schmoke's handling of the issue highlights the mayor's vulnerability on the issue of education, where Schmoke has "fumbled badly."
"Here we have a mayor who made education the centerpiece of this administration and could not pull it off," he said.
Burns said that Schmoke's first mistake was in not recognizing the ability of former Superintendent Alice G. Pinderhughes, whom Schmoke forced out in the early days of his administration.
"I don't think we needed to go out and get anybody," Burns said. "Alice was doing a good job and I don't think she should have been fired. All she needed was a mayor that would work with her. And I had vowed to do that."
Pinderhughes declined to comment.
Others said Schmoke mishandled the Hunter situation.
"His vacillation throughout Hunter's tenure became a political albatross," said A. Dwight Pettit, an attorney active in politics. "Whatever you do, you have to be decisive. But through his indecision, the mayor painted himself in a corner."
Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, said:
"I think the hiring of Hunter was a terrible mistake. The school system is a complete and total disaster and I attribute that to Dr. Hunter. It's a rudderless ship."
Deepening the political problem Schmoke may be facing on the schools issue is the fact that two years ago he was forced to push aside Meldon S. Hollis Jr., the school board president he named when he entered office.
Schmoke removed Hollis as board president after Hollis admitted that he had lied to other board members in an attempt to ferret out press leaks. Hollis remains a member of the board.
The decision to jettison Hunter means that Schmoke has appointed the city's top two education officials, only to be faced later with removing them.
Burns said those decisions will hurt Schmoke during the campaign. "There have been a lot of mistakes over the past three years," Burns said. "And they are haunting us."
Mosley said he will announce by the second week of January whether he will run for mayor. If he decides to run, Mosley said, education "is one area I would harp on."