Many Schmoke critics suffer from bruised egos

WILEY A. HALL

March 04, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

Not once, in all the time he has been mayor of Baltimore, has Kurt L. Schmoke invited me to dinner at his home. This shows a terrible lack of leadership on the mayor's part. It indicates that he has become estranged from the masses. It suggests he might even be stingy with food.

Last week, the mayor let fly a trial balloon to the effect that he is thinking about running for governor in 1994. But this dinner thing troubles me. It causes me to have grave misgivings about Mr. Schmoke's ability to be effective in Annapolis.

One reason I mention the mayor's lack of leadership with regard to invitations is that I have a voracious appetite. Another reason is that my concerns are not unique.

Over the years, I've heard a number of people criticize the mayor -- particularly Self-Appointed Very Important People -- and I've concluded that their most enduring and passionate complaints boil down to one thing: wounded egos.

Self-appointed VIPs are not the only ones who criticize the mayor, of course, and not all the criticisms leveled at Mr. Schmoke are specious. People complain, for instance, that the mayor has not eliminated poverty or disease, ignorance or crime -- and that is right. He has not.

But Mr. Schmoke's biggest fault is that he apparently disappointed a lot of wannabe bigwigs, and now they are wallowing loud and long in the winter of their discontent.

Outsiders expected to join the In-Crowd when Mr. Schmoke took office. The good old boys, who had grown fat under the regime of former Mayor William Donald Schaefer, expected to remain at the table.

But from the first, the mayor has had his own notions about who his allies are. His inner circle tends to consist of those trusted friends and advisers who have been with him since the beginning of his political career.

If Mr. Schmoke runs for governor, it will be important for us to sift through the euphemisms. When a self-appointed VIP (SA-VIP) complains that Mr. Schmoke has let his staff "isolate him from the public," that really means the mayor doesn't jump when the SA-VIP calls. When a SA-VIP complains that Mr. Schmoke has failed to show "dynamic leadership," that really means the mayor isn't trotting in the direction the SA-VIP wants him to trot. And complaints about the mayor's "lack of vision" usually mean that Mr. Schmoke has not seen fit to include the speaker among his confidants.

But for all the mayor's faults, real or imagined, I find a delicious irony in the prospect that a Schmoke administration, with its very different style of governance, could once again supersede a Schaefer administration.

Mr. Schmoke is thoughtful and calm, and he takes a studied, well-informed approach to public policy.

Mr. Schaefer is impatient and loud. And his approach, particularly in recent years and particularly with regard to human services, has been increasingly thoughtless.

Mr. Schaefer seems determined to balance the state budget on the backs of the poor by cutting benefits under the guise of welfare reform and by launching one new lottery game after another, to snatch away whatever pathetic pennies the poor have scraped together.

The City Council's hysterical rantings over Norplant recently can be traced directly to Mr. Schaefer's door; he mused in his State of the State address that making Norplant and vasectomies mandatory for certain types of people might be a good idea. (In a rare but refreshing burst of insight, the governor predicted this proposal would be labeled "racist" -- and, by golly, he was right).

Also, the governor has been fuming for some time now because the state has not executed anyone since the late 1960s, and he has appointed a task force to find a way to speed things along. Why should the yahoos in the Bible Belt have all the fun?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. As mayor, Mr. Schaefer was great for getting things built, but he treated human-service issues with benign neglect. As governor, Mr. Schaefer's positions on these problems have done harm.

Mr. Schmoke could bring sanity back to Annapolis.

In fact, Mr. Schmoke has demonstrated his common sense by keeping me well away from his household. My table manners are known to be atrocious.

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