Time To Question Schmoke

June 26, 1991

Now that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's re-election campaign has been launched with all the hoopla of a giant fund-raiser, it is time to examine the record of his first four years in office. It is also time to ask Mr. Schmoke to detail his future plans for the city.

We sense a feeling of passiveness among voters. Even though half a dozen challengers have filed to run against Mr. Schmoke, the mayor remains the prohibitive favorite. Clarence H. "Du" Burns, a former mayor, and William A. Swisher, a former state's attorney, have so far failed to get their campaigns off the ground. So have other, less-known candidates. Voters feel there's little choice.

Without political fireworks from his opponents, Mr. Schmoke alone is unlikely to generate excitement. His persona is too controlled. He isn't rah-rah. He never gets angry in public. Yet voters expect big-city mayors to be aggressive, especially in pinched times. In a place like Baltimore, things simply will not get done just with smiles.

As the primary election draws closer, Mr. Schmoke has attempted to project a new image as a hands-on mayor. He has injected himself into the selection process of Baltimore's new school superintendent, for example. Inexplicably, the mayor continues to tolerate foot-dragging in many other areas of his administration. Particularly damaging has been his inability to develop a structure in his office that is open to two-way communication -- even after four years of repeated public complaints.

This administrative weakness is not the only one. The lack of follow-up is notorious throughout his administration. An example is the Police Department's failure, despite constant proddings and promises, to sign a mutual aid agreement with Baltimore County. It is a symptom of a police department that has become hopelessly ossified in its bureaucratic ways. Now that budget constraints have paralyzed it, that department routinely fails to do fingerprint cross-checks or even compare newly recovered guns and bullets with those seized in earlier shootings.

Would Mr. Schmoke tolerate this kind of mockery of police work during a second term? Or would he insist on a reorganization that would build a more efficient, modernized department?

These are the kinds of questions we want Mr. Schmoke to address. As a former state's attorney he surely has some ideas about how to improve the law enforcement system so that murderers indeed end up behind bars and the population at-large has a sense of security in the city.

If public attention is focused on these kinds of issues -- along with such priorities as education and housing -- Baltimore may still have a mayoral race that illuminates its present condition.

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