Schmoke seeks backer in key City Council post

October 10, 1991|By Ann LoLordo

Conceding that his relationship with the City Council has been strained, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is working to install an administration supporter in a pivotal position on the council when it begins its new term in December.

Although the general election is a month away, Mr. Schmoke and two key political advisers -- campaign manager Larry S. Gibson and developer Daniel P. Henson -- are helping to line up support to return the vice presidency of the council to its traditional role as the mayor's floor leader. And they are backing 5th District Councilwoman Vera P. Hall for the post.

"As part of improving my relationship with the council, I would like to see the vice president of council serve as floor leader for the mayor," Mr. Schmoke said.

Mr. Schmoke said his desire to have a floor leader reflected his intention to work more closely with council members. "In my office, I will be more accessible. I will try to develop a better personal relationship with the council members," the mayor said.

For the past four years, council members have repeatedly criticized Mr. Schmoke for not including them in his plans for the city. They have complained that Mr. Schmoke too often kept them in the dark on legislation that he supported or failed to exert a leadership role in the council on issues of concern to him.

For his part, Mr. Schmoke, as a new mayor in December 1987, found himself caught in a power play between veteran council members and the council's new president, Mary Pat Clarke. When veteran council members then successfully stripped Mrs. Clarke of her powers to appoint committee chairmen, they also succeeded in securing enough votes to name their choice for vice president, Councilwoman Jacqueline F. McLean.

Because Mrs. McLean had supported Mr. Schmoke's opponent in the 1987 primary election, the mayor said he did not feel comfortable relying on her to speak for him in the council. The position, which pays an additional $2,000, became a symbolic one. And Mr. Schmoke said he in turn randomly selected council members to lobby for individual bills on his behalf. That system, he concedes now, "just wasn't a satisfactory relationship."

"The council members have simply said to me they were comfortable with a traditional relationship of vice president as a floor leader," Mr. Schmoke said. "I would like to try that also."

Mr. Schmoke's renewed interest in having a floor leader, along with recent criticism he has leveled at Mrs. Clarke, has led some council observers to believe that the mayor might be trying to undercut the council president.

But Mr. Schmoke said that he and Mrs. Clarke met Tuesday evening to discuss their differences.

"Given the problems we face now in the city," Mr. Schmoke said, referring to the pending loss of state revenue due to the budget crisis, "neither of us has time for any bickering."

Mrs. Clarke said she intends to work with the mayor. "He's my mayor. He has my loyalty. I work for the city of Baltimore. He is the elected leader. That's how I operate," she said.

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, said the mayor's decision to work with a floor leader should address past problems she and other council members have experienced. "Legislatively, in the past, we either never heard from him or we got responses at the 11th hour. We need more information on a timely basis," she said.

During the past week, both the mayor and his operatives, Mr. Gibson and Mr. Henson, have spoken to council members about the vice president's role, according to several council members.

Mrs. Hall, who would be serving her second term on the council, has been active in the state Democratic party and now serves as a co-chair.

"When we all work together, the city wins," said Mrs. Hall, who has told her colleagues of her interest in the vice presidency in the past few weeks. But she noted that her appointment depends on getting a majority of votes in the Council.

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