Environmentalism is rearing its "green" head in the city elections.
Leaders of 11 local environmental groups have formed a political action committee that plans to work for -- and against -- candidates for city offices this year.
The newly formed Baltimore City League of Environmental Voters is inspired by similar "grass-roots" political efforts last year that ousted incumbents and elected pro-environment candidates in local races in Frederick, Montgomery and Worcester counties.
Terry J. Harris, a Sierra Club activist who is chairman of the new league, says the group plans to interview and endorse candidates for mayor and City Council.
"I think we can make a difference in some of the races," said Harris, a southwest Baltimore resident and a physicist who works at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Others on the league's board of directors include leaders of the city's recycling coalition, the state conservation council, the local chapter of Clean Water Action and members of the city's forestry board and a group fighting childhood lead poisoning.
Unlike state and national leagues of conservation voters, the city league has no plans to issue a "report card" on the environmental records of current council incumbents and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Harris said.
But the local league is distributing questionnaires to incumbents and challengers, quizzing them on issues such as the Pulaski Highway incinerator, trash recycling, lead poisoning, reforestation and parks maintenance. And Harris made it clear that the league will not automatically endorse incumbents, even if they face little or no challenge.
"The city has been talking a good game, but they still have that nightmare Pulaski incinerator, which they stil haven't been able to deal with," Harris said. "And the recycling program, we've heard how it's going to be citywide by the end of the year, but we haven't seen yet the educational effort we think it's going to take."
Based on the candidates' responses and interviews held over the next three weeks, Harris said, the league hopes to issue endorsements by early August.
Meanwhile, another environmentally oriented group already has issued its first endorsement.
The Baltimore Greens, an offshoot of the international Green political party first formed in Europe in the 1980s, has announced its backing for one of its local members, Edwin L. Smith, for a 6th District seat on the City Council.
Smith, a self-employed engineer and land surveyor who lives in the Hollins Market area, calls South Baltimore "one of the most unhealthful areas in Maryland because of pollution" and advocates making it easier for citizens to file lawsuits against alleged polluters. He also proposes more aggressive promotion of recycling and of bicycle use as an alternative to cars.
Smith won the Greens' endorsement for more than just his environmental positions, said Mike O'Mara, head of the local party.
"We're not just an environmental party," explained O'Mara. The group also stresses "grass-roots democracy," nonviolence and social responsibility, he said.
"Environment, housing and jobs kind of go together for us as social issues, and having more democracy," O'Mara said.
This is the first time the Baltimore Greens have backed anyone in a city election, though the group was formed about four years ago. The party did endorse an unsuccessful candidate for Prince George's County Council last year, O'Mara said.
Though "green" politics has become a significant force in Europe, its presence here is slight. O'Mara said the Baltimore Greens have a mailing list of about 100 people and a nucleus of about a dozen campaign workers.
But the Greens hope to attract more members with Smith's candidacy, O'Mara said, which should expose voters to the party's philosophy. Toward that end, the group has taken out ads in the City Paper announcing its endorsement of Smith.
There's just one glitch. Although Smith is a Greens member, he )) is running officially as a Democrat.
O'Mara said that Maryland election laws require a third party to collect more than 10,000 signatures on petitions to get listed on the ballot. That is one of the things the Greens would like to change.