Schmoke under fire

August 04, 1992

As Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's role as national spokesman for urban America looms larger after his appearance at the Democratic National Convention last month, displeasure with his performance as the city's chief executive is mounting. Criticism of the mayor is nothing new, but many of the more recent complaints have come from groups that had been his political allies. Even they are losing patience -- and hope.

The call of the NAACP's local chapter for martial law indicates how desperate people have become. Martial law is not the answer, but Mr. Schmoke's suggestion that people have to reclaim the streets does not solve the problem, either. People need to know the city's leadership shares the same sense of urgency and concern over the chaos in the city's streets and neighborhoods.

While no one expects Mayor Schmoke alone to solve the social ills infecting the city, his constituents would like to see him show some passion. The mayor's deliberative and low-key management style is appropriate for choosing among development projects or reorganizing municipal agencies. It is less effective when gunfire becomes a routine nighttime sound in some city neighborhoods and when an increasing percentage of pediatric injuries in hospital emergency rooms are caused by gunshots and knives.

Baltimore's citizens would like the mayor to get angry. City residents also want a leader who is going to inspire them in spite of the city's dire circumstances. Winston Churchill's words kept hope alive when Nazi bombs were falling on London. In the depths of the Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave Americans RTC hope with his reassuring words even though the nation's economic outlook was dim. Mayor Schmoke has to let the people know that there will be an end to this epidemic of street crime, and that City Hall does, indeed, care.

Mr. Schmoke too often says that the problems cannot be solved without money and that the city doesn't have any. He is right, of course, that his ability to deal with these crises has been hamstrung by the neglect of America's cities and the large deficit accumulated in Washington during the 1980s. Yet while there may be little money available for the dozens of programs necessary to deal with the city's concerns, there is a clear need for leadership and inspiration. Mayor Schmoke should not dodge that role.

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