When Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke met with Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development Monday night, he said he had been "proud to run on a platform that was essentially the BUILD agenda." He then politely but forcefully rejected a number of demands concerning the school system and law enforcement from that church-based coalition.
"We have different roles," he said. "Ultimately the responsibility for governing in this city is mine."
We agree. The mayor, not BUILD, was elected by voters to run Baltimore and, with the City Council, operate the city within its budget.
BUILD may have difficulty in adjusting to Mr. Schmoke's firmness. During the mayor's first four years in office, BUILD was the Schmoke administration's close partner in many endeavors. Together they negotiated West Baltimore's $23 million Nehemiah housing initiative, an ambitious attempt to turn a declining neighborhood around by constructing 300 town houses for sale to low-income families. In 1990, BUILD also was given a further imprimatur when it became the only community group planning school decentralization on a joint committee of teachers and administrators.
Yet as attempts at school reform dragged on, frustration mounted inside BUILD. Activists felt the organization had betrayed its advocacy mission by agreeing to participate in endless sessions in which little was achieved. After the Schmoke administration unexpectedly announced it had selected a private firm to run nine public schools, BUILD decided it should take a more confrontational stance toward the mayor and his administration's policies.
Mr. Schmoke, for his part, came to the realization that he cannot steer the city through the next several months' financial trials by bowing to demands from community groups, no matter how well-meaning. His strong stance is a message to BUILD and other pressure groups that Baltimore City is confronted with difficult leadership choices that he and he alone must make.
We agree. Let the mayor be mayor.
BUILD wants the mayor to curtail any further school privatization experiment. "We will fight you on this because the whole thing is contrary to public education," the organization's co-chair, Rev. Robert Behnke, told the mayor. Mr. Schmoke, for his part, said he must take into consideration the best interests of Baltimore' children. He feels the public schools have failed those children so badly a variety of new solutions must be tried.
If radical change comes to education, many groups and individuals with vested interests stand to lose. Mr. Schmoke's message to BUILD was that while community groups will be consulted, they will not run the show.