Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's primary victory last night virtually guarantees his re-election Nov. 7. That is a fact of life in an overwhelmingly Democratic city that hasn't elected a Republican mayor in 28 years and hasn't sent a Republican to the City Council in nearly a half-century.
A win is a win. Nevertheless, Mr. Schmoke's victory margin was less than some observers had expected, considering the giant campaign chest the incumbent had amassed. Although he garnered virtually all the meaningful political endorsements, he still could not instill enthusiasm into voters, many of whom stayed away from polls in one of the lightest city elections ever.
It is doubtful that the Republican nominee for mayor will make Mr. Schmoke sweat too much in the run-up to the general election. It is a pity. Mr. Schmoke's relatively modest victory certainly suggests that after four years at City Hall he has yet to convince many voters he can do the job. But while citizens may have been dissatisfied with the Schmoke administration's performance, such a large number boycotted the elections that neither Clarence H. "Du" Burns nor William Swisher had a real chance for an upset. Yes, people are more adept at complaining than taking action.
Mr. Schmoke himself relegated his challengers to minor players by refusing to debate them. This may have been a winning strategy. But such a cold-shouldering showed Mr. Schmoke's aloofness from the concerns of taxpayers, who have a legitimate need to know how different candidates would deal with problems. The Sun thinks that Mr. Schmoke has no excuse for refusing a public debate with the GOP candidate.
We also think that Jacqueline McLean, the Democratic nominee for city comptroller, should debate her Republican opponent, Marshall W. Jones Jr. Similarly, Democratic nominees for City Council should go head-to-head with Republicans, particularly in the First and Third districts. A well-informed public is likely to be a more active public. Yesterday's dismal voting turnout makes it incumbent upon candidates to do whatever it takes to create enthusiasm for the general election.
Among yesterday's big upsets was the defeat of two veteracouncilmen in the First District, six-termer Dominic Mimi DiPietro and five-termer John A. Schaefer. Their departure ends an era. The geographically massive district should gain more aggressive and thoughtful representation.
Enough fresh faces will join the City Council after the Nov. general election to give it a new look. The most reassuring thing about yesterday's apathetic primary was that even the low participation level could not prevent a long-overdue leadership renewal in the council. For that, Baltimore has reason for optimism.