Duel at City Hall

March 04, 1994

The recent opening of City Council President Mary Pat Clarke's mayoral headquarters for the 1995 campaign has Baltimore's political pot boiling. Not wanting to take any chances, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has ordered his re-election organization shifted into high gear. "It's no longer business as usual. I'm going to run a far more aggressive campaign than in the past," he pledges.

Mrs. Clarke is an energetic politician. She is popular in neighborhoods throughout the city and is likely to run an aggressive campaign, too. Despite her early start -- she announced her mayoral ambitions in September -- many political junkies predict in the end she will abandon her challenge of Mr. Schmoke and run for re-election. Her newly printed bumper stickers leave all options open. They say only, "Mary Pat Clarke in 1995."

During the past year, Mr. Schmoke has been gradually revamping his government. His new department heads are finally tackling the tough problems -- from crime and housing to economic development. At the same time, the Schmoke administration remains gripped by such elemental flaws as poor staff work, missed messages and unanswered telephone calls. It is time for the mayor to put an end to those inexcusable lapses: they'd never be tolerated in the private sector.

The mayoral primary will not be until Sept. 12, 1995. In order to sustain interest, Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke ought to give the public a comprehensive and detailed idea of their strategies for the city's future development.

This is particularly important because recommendations by a charter revision commission propose changes in the functions of top municipal officials and the way the city is run. Baltimore does not need a protracted campaign of cheap political shots, but the city desperately requires an intelligent discussion of its future. Indeed, if a duel between the two top officials leads to better government and accountability, an unusually long primary campaign may be worth the effort.

Given Comptroller Jacqueline McLean's indictment, the 1995 election could produce tough races for all three of the citywide offices. In the City Council, a substantial change of cast is likely, too. It ought to. Too many council members are nothing but tired and ineffectual time-servers.

Baltimore has not elected Republicans to office in decades. That circumstance has produced GOP candidates so weak they have been devoid of credibility. The 1995 election presents an opportunity that Republican activists would be foolish to ignore. Above all, Baltimore needs good government.

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