How to Win on Election Day and Lose Later

GARLAND L. THOMPSON

September 21, 1991|By GARLAND L. THOMPSON

In politics, they say winning on Election Day is everything. Maybe so, but the corollary after the hurrahs must have something to do with smooth working relations. From here, the ''everything'' won in Baltimore's municipal elections looks far less complete than ''everyone'' might have thought.

We begin at last spring's redistricting fight. Mayor Schmoke, convinced there would be bloodletting if he charged in and rewrote the lines demarking City Council districts, tried to keep things cool. Pressed by blacks demanding a shift that reflected their demographic reach and by whites demanding continuation their disproportionate voice, Mr. Schmoke tried to punt.

Into the breach leapt Carl Stokes, D-Second District, leading a black Council caucus resolved to put its mark on city politics. The group's members were forthcoming in support of Mr. Schmoke, but determined that things must change. The power of the old political clubs and neighborhood machines had to be broken, said Vera Hall, D-5th, who emerged as co-spokesman. And so, over the objections of Mr. Schmoke, it was. Doubters should turn to last week's election results.

OK, class, what is the implication of a changed electoral landscape? A changed City Council. Who has the major role in developing programs and presenting legislative packages to the the council? The mayor. Who, then, has the most interest in lining up his ducks before this new council starts trying out its wings? The mayor.

Final question, class. Just who ought to be out there trying to elect a council majority loyal to himself, especially when his own fund-raising, polling and organizational support have made him a shoo-in for re-election? The mayor. Let's hear it again, all together: The Mayor.

That's not what happened. Quiet support here and there, single-shooting to win a candidate's gratitude, is not nearly as effective after an election as overt, up-front designation of a slate. For one thing, candidates' memories get notoriously short after they settle into the comforts of office. Pressures within a district, late-blooming ambitions and individual egos come into play even where communications are good. In any case where communications break down, as has happened with Mr. Schmoke's relations with the council, such pressures can quickly move the parties apart.

Ditto all that for the city comptroller's office. The long tenure of Hyman Pressman and the slick PR machine of William Donald Schaefer have obscured for many Baltimoreans the impact an independent-minded comptroller can have on a mayor's ability to govern. Are you listening, Mr. Schmoke?

Interested parties should review City Charter provisions for the comptroller's powers. The latest version says the comptroller has ''general supervision of the Department of Audits and the activities of the City Auditor.'' The comptroller places the city's insurance policies, seeking competitive bids wherever ''[s]he finds that it would be to the City's advantage.''

The controller heads the Department of Real Estate and appoints its officers, assistants and other employees to purchase and dispose of land for public needs, lease buildings, etc. The comptroller has a major say in construction contracting. The comptroller does not have to wait for a Board of Estimates request to initiate audits of city activities and has unhindered access to city records, even from time to time engaging independent auditors.

If you're the mayor, do you want such an officer to take the helm unfettered by meaningful debts to you? Class, say ''Heavens, No!''

What you do instead is meet with the comers, laying out your broad agenda for the next four years. You listen as they put their own agendas on the table and pick the one which best fits with your own. Then you agree on a package that meets your approval and enlists the loyalty of the one you choose to back. If that finalist is Jackie McLean, who has the money but may need organizational help on the streets, you make it very plain to her and the public that you are providing it. Mrs. McLean had small financial donations from the Schmoke and Burns campaigns, and the rumor is that Mr. Schmoke tacitly backed her over Jody Landers, but that is not what is meant here.

Wanna see why it's a mistake for any mayor to let a well-financed, popular candidate with ties to organizations which don't like him get into office without much help from him? Look back at the battles Comptroller R. Walter Graham started over city insurance in 1961, or the fights he got into over Civic Center construction contracts.

Mrs. McLean, a two-term councilwoman with ties to Schaefer loyalists, is young enough, smart enough and ambitious enough to strike out on directions all her own. That's reason enough, with a new-look council coming to power, to give a mayor with ambitions of his own the willies. Are you listening, Mr. Schmoke?

Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Sun.

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