Needed: City Hall Cooperation

November 07, 1991

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will begin his second administration next month with a new city comptroller and five novice City Council members joining Baltimore's municipal government. This injection of new blood ought to help in creating a more productive partnership among elected officials at a time when economic hard times are squeezing the city into a corner.

If the bloated municipal government indeed is to be restructured and trimmed -- as Mr. Schmoke is pledging to do -- the mayor will have to forge a spirit of cooperation he never managed to develop during his first term. Otherwise, he may have City Council President Mary Pat Clarke grandstanding on one side and the new comptroller, Jacqueline McLean, haranguing him on the other. Both of them, after all, are ambitious politicians itching to go on to bigger and better things.

Yet genuine cooperation among the three top elected officials is essential as the city reviews the structure and size of government. Such harmony would also translate into a constructive relationship between the City Council and mayor. If, on the other hand, Mr. Schmoke and Ms. Clarke cannot get along, that tension is certain to be reflected in the tone Ms. Clarke sets for the council.

These are not merely personality issues but questions of each official understanding his or her role correctly.

For instance, Mr. Schmoke has pledged to appoint a floor leader in the council -- which he never had during the past four years -- to spearhead his legislative efforts and political initiatives. That floor leader, though, might encounter the hostility of Ms. Clarke, who particularly during the past year has been orchestrating the council pretty much at will. At the same time, the council might anger the mayor if it finally takes its oversight responsibilities seriously and begins probing the policies and performance of municipal agencies. Common ground has to be found.

There is nothing wrong with tension among the various branches of city government. Such tension, in fact, often is needed to produce results. What cannot be tolerated is outright hostility over petty political and personality differences. Remolding a fat and outdated municipal bureaucracy to serve a much-changed city is a task that can be achieved only if the city's elected officials share a communality of purpose. This is the biggest challenge facing both re-elected incumbents and the newly elected novices.

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