More Determined City Leaders

June 24, 1992

If you haven't noticed, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the City Council have become a bit more assertive recently.

The mayor, for example, has announced his intention to sue state government for not providing adequate funding for Baltimore's public schools. The City Council, for its part, showed enough independence to move on two key issues that the mayor opposed. And a funny thing happened.

When the council decided to pass a moratorium on new or expanded waste incinerators, the mayor dropped his previous reservations and signed on. The same thing happened on the controversial idea of forming a non-profit company to insure city drivers, who pay significantly higher rates to commercial agencies than the rest of Maryland motorists. When the council pushed ahead on the matter, the mayor reversed his position and promised to fund the "lion's share" of a $150,000 actuarial study and business plan for the proposed outfit.

Both the council and mayor are beginning to act more business-like. They are playing hardball when protracted efforts to find remedies to long-standing problems -- such as unequal school funding or sky-high insurance rates -- prove unsuccessful. Time will tell how serious they are about being tough. But even if they are bluffing on some issues to see who blinks first, well, that's how to get things done in this world.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge sees two explanations: As the Ross Perot phenomenon suggests, people not only like but expect populism and unorthodoxy. Also, the financially strapped city is becoming so weak politically its officials sometimes must use threats and sensationalism to get a fair hearing in Annapolis and beyond.

Our pet peeve with the old council was that it tended toward parochialism. The election last fall of five novices has clearly created new dynamics on that 18-member body. They are feeling their oats. Let them. The later they become regular politicians, the better.

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