Long city mayoral fight

February 18, 1994

After years of ho-hum mayoral elections, Baltimore City finally seems destined for a good, old-fashioned political brawl. Although the next citywide primary election is not until Sept. 12, 1995, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says he "no longer can afford" to discount City Council President Mary Pat Clarke's mayoral ambitions.

"It's no longer business as usual. I'm going to run a far more aggressive campaign than I have in the past," the mayor said of his attempt to capture a third term as chief executive.

Mr. Schmoke seldom allows himself to show anger. But he apparently was so infuriated by Mrs. Clarke's questioning of the city's lease of Memorial Stadium to the Canadian Football League that he declared an all-out war on his rival and put his campaign machine in high gear.

Mrs. Clarke, meanwhile, invited 200 supporters to the opening of her campaign headquarters on Valentine's Day. "As an underdog and as a person of a very limited campaign chest, I have to rely on people power and volunteers," she explained.

A primary duel lasting 570 days will produce much unnecessary political posturing, such as Mrs. Clarke's CFL cheap shots. But it should also trigger a thoughtful discussion of Baltimore's current condition and strategies for the city's future as part of an expanding metropolitan region.

Last September, when the energetic Mrs. Clarke first announced her mayoral plans, she looked like a formidable candidate. She still does. But Mr. Schmoke is no weakling. His gradual revamping of the administration is beginning to pay off.

In Daniel P. Henson III he has a competent housing commissioner. Public Works Director George G. Balog showed his mettle during the ice storms. Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson is winning high marks. Planning Director Charles C. Graves III shows promise. School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey is making progress. And new Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier hit the ground running. In short, the Schmoke administration is in far better shape today than it was six months ago.

At the same time, serious problems remain. Much of the mayor's staff work is still incompetent. Telephone calls do not get returned, messages are not passed on. These are the kinds of elemental administrative weaknesses Mrs. Clarke has never tolerated in her office.

It would be too bad if this long primary campaign is reduced to carping. The next year and a half should be used for comparing strategies and agendas so that city voters will be able to make an intelligent and educated choice.

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