In a ceremony stripped of pomp, Kurt L. Schmoke took the oath for a second term as Baltimore's mayor yesterday with a call for citizens to do more for themselves in hard financial times.
The event, in the City College auditorium, was without frills -- fitting in a city struggling into an uncertain economic future. In his inaugural speech, Mr. Schmoke said Baltimore's citizens must join government in "a new spirit of cooperation."
"We simply have to do more for ourselves," Mr. Schmoke, 42, told the spectators filling the auditorium. "The economy leaves us no choice."
A former City College quarterback and Baltimore's first elected black mayor, Mr. Schmoke fashioned his speech as a pep talk for taxpayers and for the City College students assembled to watch the ceremony.
He urged Baltimoreans to recycle, to keep their streets clean, to report suspicious activities to police and to join community groups. He asked parents to be sure their children eat breakfast. He asked students to devote an hour each night to study. "This is the new face of government," he said, "and it's government that depends on you."
For his part, Mr. Schmoke pledged to work with the City Council to reduce the size of government and re-examine its functions.
Though he offered no specifics in his speech, Mr. Schmoke later endorsed a plan by the city's Enoch Pratt Free Library to turn over the operation of five neighborhood branch libraries to community groups that can afford to run them without city funds. He said that if the groups are unwilling or unable to take over the branches, the libraries will close.
The mayor also told reporters that another idea under study would separate the cost of trash pickup from a property owners' tax bill. Businesses, which do not get city trash pickup, would thus be relieved of that cost.
Standing on the auditorium stage, the mayor spoke of austerity, but the mood at his alma mater was upbeat. Before his speech, Mr. Schmoke noted that City had won the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game against Poly. He held up a newspaper clipping noting that six City players had made the all-metro team. The crowd joined in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Lift Every Voice" and "City Forever," the school's fight song.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D.-Md., and Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, joined council members, state senators, delegates and city officials in the audience.
The event, which lasted less than an hour, contrasted sharply with Mr. Schmoke's first inaugural. Four years ago, about 1,400 people came to the Baltimore Arena for a late-afternoon ceremony broadcast live on evening newscasts.
But this is a different time. After four years in office, Mr. Schmoke knows better the problems that face the city and the scarcity of money with which to attack them. Yesterday's ceremony was deliberately low-key. "In these economic times, everything has been scaled back," said Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press aide.
After the event, the mayor went downtown to the swearing-in of Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean, then returned to his City Hall office.
Immediately after the ceremony, standing in a hallway outside the high school auditorium, Mr. Schmoke said he and his aides are committed to revamping the city's government structure. The priorities, he said, will be education, crime and the environment.
"I just want to assure the public we are thinking in the most creative ways possible," the mayor added. "It's not going to be easy," Mr. Schmoke said. "And there may be some pain."
He added that his office also is studying new ways to collect and spend money.
The idea of separating costs for trash disposal from the rest of the property tax bill is based on the practice used for years in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
In effect, the proposal -- which the mayor insists is only under study -- would give a tax break to businesses which do not receive trash pickup. "Right now, businesses subsidize the residential owners," Mr. Schmoke said, and the proposal could encourage businesses to create more jobs in Baltimore.
Baltimore's property tax rate of $5.90 per $100 of value is by far the highest in the state. Pulling the trash fee out of the tax rate would reduce it by 35 cents to 45 cents per $100, said William Brown, Baltimore's finance director. But the trash charge could be included as a separate figure on the tax bill.
The combined charges for property taxes and garbage collection "in all likelihood would be higher than the cost of property-tax rate" alone, Mr. Brown added.
"It would certainly help the business community out, because they would not be charged for something they don't receive," Mr. Brown said. "There's equity there."
Some of the elected officials at the ceremony said they believe Baltimoreans will support Mr. Schmoke's call for partnership between citizen and City Hall.
"We're going to have to motivate people a lot more than we used to," said City Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th. "There's no alternative. Even in my community, I've seen people walk by trash right near their house, and they say it's the city's responsibility."