Even though we regret Kurt Schmoke's stiff-arming of the city's League of Women Voters by dropping out of last night's scheduled debate among mayoral candidates, we nevertheless endorse the mayor for renomination.
Politically speaking, the mayor no doubt was correct in his
calculation that he is so far ahead in the polls that his presence at a debate could only benefit his challengers. But an appearance by Schmoke would have done more than merely give "free air time" to former Mayor Clarence Du Burns. A debate also would have given "free air time" to Baltimore citizens to hear the views of the people who are asking for the privilege of leading the city for the coming four years. It also would have given the mayor an opportunity to defend his stewardship for the past four years -- which in many respects is a good record.
To be sure, Mayor Schmoke has come in for criticism despite the substantial lead which the polls indicate he enjoys with the election just a week away. Much of this criticism, in our view, is unwarranted in that it fails to take into account two factors.
First, Schmoke was obliged to make the transition from a highly successful mayoralty of William Donald Schaefer. Most of the talented managerial team which Schaefer had assembled during his 15-year reign moved on to Annapolis when he became governor. It was inevitable that the new administrators Schmoke put in place would require some time to get their sea legs.
Second, Schmoke assumed office at a time when federal largess ran dry. At the peak of his expansive tenure, Schaefer was getting close to 40 percent of Baltimore's expenditures from federal sources. Under Schmoke that sustenance has become a mere trickle. All the while the problems of poverty, crime and drug addiction have mounted.
Could he have done better? Of course he could have. There have been lamentable episodes of indecisiveness. But in our view, a more confident and determined Kurt Schmoke has emerged from his first term, and he is ready to take on the difficult task of keeping Baltimore a viable, safe city in a time of resource scarcity.
* In the Republican primary, our choice as the party's nominee for mayor is Samuel A. Culotta. The Baltimore attorney has toiled in the vineyards of city Republican politics for many years and has emerged as an articulate and principled spokesman for the kind of "urban Republicanism" that is associated with such names as McKeldin and Mathias. It would be an idle wish to expect that any Republican challenger could mount a serious race against any Democratic nominee in Baltimore city. But Culotta is, in our view, clearly the most qualified candidate on the Republican side to carry that party's banner.