Schmoke says 2nd term will bring big changes

November 06, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Kurt L. Schmoke embarks on his second term as mayor of Baltimore promising a dramatic reorganization of city government and determined that his second four years in office will differ in both style and substance from his first.

Facing the city's bleakest fiscal outlook in decades, Mr. Schmoke said that the first details of his planned remaking of the government will become known Friday, when he announces plans to deal with drastic cuts in state aid.

He also said it was likely that some Cabinet-level aides or agency heads would lose their jobs as city agencies are combined, but he declined to either name them or to sketch out his blueprint for change.

"The public is going to see a reorganization of government," Mr. Schmoke said in an interview on the eve of his re-election victory yesterday. ". . . It is likely that some [agency chiefs] might not be where they are now."

At the same time, the mayor said he plans to confront one of the major criticisms of his first term by opening up lines of communication with both the City Council and business leaders -- two groups that have complained bitterly that too often their efforts to reach the Mr. Schmoke have been thwarted.

"I'm going to broaden those contacts," the mayor promised.

And Mr. Schmoke, who during his first term promoted Baltimore as "The City That Reads," said individual responsibility and community volunteerism will be the major themes during his second four years in office.

The mayor says he is well aware that the area's poor economy and the reduction in federal and state programs designed to ease the burden of poverty on city residents could make his second term a rough one. More than once, he has warned that high unemployment combined with the loss of government assistance could lead to riots.

"If programs continue to be cut at the national and state level that focus on the poorest of the poor, social unrest is possible," Mr. Schmoke said.

Still, he says that the long-term prospects for the city remain positive. He is convinced that a slowdown in construction and other development among some large projects in Baltimore, such as the Inner Harbor East project near Little Italy, are related to short-term doldrums in the nation's economy and financial sector, and not a loss of faith in Baltimore by developers.

"The fact that developers have stayed in Baltimore is an indication that they remain committed to the city," Mr. Schmoke said.

Politically, the 41-year-old mayor's second term at City Hall will be crucial to a future once considered among the brightest of his generation of Maryland political leaders. Voted into office in 1987 as Baltimore's first elected black mayor after five years as the city's chief prosecutor, the former Rhodes scholar and lawyer was a fixture on political insiders' lists of potential governors or United States senators.

But politically, his first term did not catch the magic that many saw for him. Even his supporters acknowledge he has not done a good job of articulating his vision for Baltimore and the direction in which he wants to lead it.

For now, however, Mr. Schmoke said that rather than try to position himself for higher elective office, he will be content to stick to his job as mayor of the nation's 13th-largest city.

"Normally, big-city mayors don't go higher in elective office directly from being mayor," Mr. Schmoke said. "I'm not planning on doing anything but work real hard on city stuff."

As Mr. Schmoke sets out to remake city government, his hand will be guided not so much by visionary idealism as by the crushing reality of the city's dire fiscal straits.

The first glimpse of what the mayor has in store for Baltimore will come on Friday, when Mr. Schmoke plans to announce reductions in the size of various city agencies designed to cope with the loss of roughly $25 million in state aid to Baltimore announced last month by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

And the mayor said he will announce far more sweeping changes to the structure of city agencies next spring, as he makes final the details of the fiscal year 1993 budget, which begins in eight months.

Although the mayor has been tight-lipped about the specifics of how those changes will affect the city, community, business and political leaders in the city -- both friends and adversaries of the mayor -- say Mr. Schmoke must also concentrate on the style in which he runs government. To do it, many say he must become more accessible, less shielded by the cadre of political aides who jealously guard access to him.

Many of them also say that while the substance of the mayor's policies generally is sound, he and his deputies have done a poor job helping city residents understand what those policies are and how citizens can help achieve them.

"The bottom line is the people just don't know what the substance is because he has been so low-key," said George N. Buntin, executive secretary of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"If you look at his appointments, they are all low-key people and that hurts because perception is important," Mr. Buntin said. "It appears that his appointments aren't doing anything."

Some of the people who have had access to the mayor say he has matured politically during his first administration and now is poised to make a profound impact on the future of the city.

Gary Rodwell, of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a community organizing group, said the mayor has been successful in persuading business leaders and community organizations to make a commitment to the school system, and to rethink the way the city delivers services such as trash collection and police protection.

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