A mayor for the cities

December 18, 1992

At Baltimore City Hall, and in Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's office in particular, no Cabinet appointment announced by President-elect Clinton has aroused more interest than his selection of Henry Cisneros as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. This is a job Mr. Schmoke probably could have had for the asking. But he wasn't asking. To attain his personal goals -- perhaps the U.S. Senate, perhaps the governorship -- Mr. Schmoke is not aiming higher now so he can go higher later.

Among some of Mr. Schmoke's non-admirers, the thought has occurred that maybe he wasn't such a good candidate for the HUD anyway. His housing record, and the record of his housing commissioner, Robert Hearn, has been anything but illustrious. While the two can point to some notable innovations -- the 300-house Nehemiah Project and the conversion of a number of unused school houses into apartments -- their day-to-day management of the agency is open to criticism.

Mr. Schmoke's admirers, however, attribute any shortcomings to the budget crunch urban centers have suffered in the Reagan-Bush era. The mayor has oftimes lobbied the Republican HUD secretary, Jack Kemp, for more money and preference. But he is now counting on his credentials as an early Clinton admirer to bring home more bacon and pork. Mr. Schmoke wants more flexibility in the use of federal funds and the designation of Baltimore as a showcase city for Clinton urban policy.

Whether the incoming Democratic administration will have the wherewithal or inclination to release vast sums for the cities is problematical. During the campaign, the mayors presented Mr. Clinton with a list of 7,252 projects in 506 cities to create 418,415 jobs at a first-year cost of $12.9 billion. [Baltimore's share: 51 projects to create 3,570 jobs.] But the president-to-be was non-committal, and there he remains.

Mr. Cisneros, as the Cabinet advocate for the cities, brings to his job hands-on mayoral experience that Mr. Kemp never had. He was San Antonio's first Hispanic mayor for four terms in the 1980s and established a national reputation that has lingered during his past three years in the private sector. He has well-defined and focused concerns, particularly in the area of low-cost housing. But he takes on a job that has been a constant frustration for his predecessors. Mr. Kemp, for example, was largely ignored in urging a more generous Bush administration attitude toward the cities.

So Baltimore will not have its own mayor in charge of the federal agency for the cities. But it will have a HUD secretary who may give it a sympathetic ear -- provided Bill Clinton gives the green light.

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