Welcome Choices in City Primary

July 10, 1991

So what if state Sen. George W. Della is a b'hoy from an old South Baltimore political machine? At least he had enough gumption to file against incumbent City Council President Mary Pat Clarke at a time when other politicians threw up their hands and pronounced her invincible.

With two terms on the City Council -- where he chaired the finance committee -- Mr. Della is a credible challenger. If he can get his belated campaign off the ground, he may bring excitement and substance to the primary election season. He and Daki Napata, the third Democratic candidate for city council president, are likely to force Ms. Clarke into a vigorous debate of her record and performance as the No. 2 citywide official.

We welcome such a debate. Elections are opportunities for a public stock-taking. No elected official should be given a free ride. The higher their office, the more aggressively incumbents' priorities and performance should be questioned.

For that reason we are disappointed the seven Democratic challengers have yet to force Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to break a sweat. Where is Clarence "Du" Burns, the former mayor? Where is William A. Swisher, the former state's attorney? Are they to be mere court jesters in the primary?

On the Republican side, the mayoral primary could turn into a bitter race between newcomer Joseph Scalia and an old GOP warhorse, Samuel Culotta. Their views differ markedly, though neither is a fan of the incumbent. Four other GOP mayoral candidates have filed, too.

Nine weeks remain until the Sept. 12 election. There is still time for probing debates. In particular, voters need to know more about the three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for city comptroller -- Joseph T. Landers, Mary W. Conaway and Jacqueline McLean.

Baltimore City went through a controversial redrawing of council districts earlier this year. Interestingly, incumbents face little serious challenge in the two districts that remained virtually unchanged -- Fourth and Fifth -- while real dogfights are developing elsewhere in the city.

A good example is the revised First District. Nine Democrats are challenging the three incumbents. (This district also is the only one to have a contested GOP primary.) In the Second District, a total of 13 Democrats -- including two incumbents -- are vying for the three nominations. The numbers are identical in the redrawn Third District. In the Sixth District, 11 candidates are challenging the three incumbent Democrats.

So many candidates are working hard in their campaigns that the City Council is certain to have new blood after November's general election. That's how it should be. Elections are opportunities to cleanse and renew the democratic system.

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