Tough Challenges at City Hall

December 03, 1991

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will be sworn in today for a second term in economic conditions that are drastically different from four years ago. The recession has made it plain that the way Baltimore City's government traditionally has been run must change. Rethinking and remaking that government will be the biggest test -- and opportunity -- of the second Schmoke administration.

The question is whether Mr. Schmoke has the political will to undertake the kinds of changes an inevitable downsizing involves without destroying the qualities that make Baltimore livable.

One example illustrates what a difficult task confronts the mayor. In trimming the budget, the Schmoke administration -- to save less than $60,000 -- cut the positions of two crucial coordinators. One put together packages that enabled neighborhoods to undertake self-help volunteer projects. The other aided small businessmen in rehabilitating vacant commercial properties and filling them with tenants. "These are jobs that have a direct economic benefit because they encourage redevelopment," protests Timothy R. Hearn, a real estate man. For her part, Lois A. Garey, executive director of Northeast Baltimore's Harbel Community Organization, pleads, "Don't take away the tools communities need to do more with less."

During his re-election campaign, Mr. Schmoke talked about the need for new partnerships between the city and private organizations and individuals to help Baltimore survive the hard times without lowering the quality of life. In light of such statements, elimination of pivotal coordinating positions is difficult to comprehend. Homeowners and businessmen nervous about the city's future are watching for evidence either to foster or dispel their fears. Unless the city administration manages to give reassuring signals, Baltimore will continue to lose its middle class and businesses to the surrounding counties.

Jacqueline McLean, the new city comptroller, also will be sworn LTC in today. She has a chance -- and obligation -- to reshape that important office into a more aggressive watchdog agency that will not only audit the city bureaucracy's books but also rate how each agency is performing. A review and evaluation of municipal real estate holdings also should be among her priorities. Why should priceless city land -- such as a stretch of waterfront near Federal Hill -- be used for repairing city fire trucks? Clearly that land would be more profitable if the city leased or sold it to a private developer who could take advantage of its harbor views.

Even as the city government downsizes, it should have one overriding goal -- better service to taxpayers. After all, they own City Hall.

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