Beilenson Deserves Quick Approval

September 28, 1992

The City Council should waste no time confirming Dr. Peter L. Beilenson as the new health commissioner. The sooner the 32-year-old physician can take full responsibility for the running of the municipal health department the better.

Dr. Beilenson comes with outstanding credentials. First as the chief resident of the preventive medicine program at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and then as director of the city's school health services, he has demonstrated a deeply felt concern for exactly the kinds of health issues that are increasingly characteristic of Baltimore's problems. They range from children's preventive medical care to AIDS, drugs and domestic violence to teen pregnancy.

When Dr. Beilenson ran for the City Council a year ago, those issues formed the platform of his unsuccessful candidacy. He repeatedly expressed a view that traditional bureaucratic arrangements may not be the best way to serve at-risk populations in conditions of increasing homelessness and disconnectedness to society. As the city's chief health officer, he will have a chance to experiment and change priorities.

Dr. Beilenson, son of a U.S. representative from California, comes from a liberal Democratic tradition that believes existing societal conditions are often unfair but can be changed. His big test comes in trying to reconcile his impatience and outspokenness with the fiscal realities of a big city -- and a health bureaucracy that is not accustomed to being challenged.

Another test will come when the City Council considers this nomination. Many incumbent office holders have not forgotten -- or forgiven -- Dr. Beilenson's all-out campaign to oust them a year ago. Our advice to the City Council is to bury the political hatchets and let the physician go to work. The more burdened he is with health problems, the less mischief he is likely to cause to incumbents!

The Beilenson nomination represents a change in Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's strategy. Ever since the departure of Dr. Maxie Collier two years, the mayor has been hoping to have an acting commissioner run the health department until the City Charter could be changed so a medical degree would not be required of the health chief. While Deputy Commissioner Elias A. Dorsey, from all accounts, did a good job, we are relieved that this stratagem to circumvent the charter is now over. Changing job qualifications is a matter best left to the charter review commission and the voters.

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