Destructive power games

July 14, 1994

Now that City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's leave of absence has turned into a resignation, a fierce fight has developed for the No. 3 position in the city government. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is pushing Councilwoman Iris Reeves. City Council President Mary Pat Clarke is backing Councilman Lawrence Bell.

The stakes are high. The selection of the new comptroller may affect the balance of power on the Board of Estimates. And if the new comptroller wants to hold the position past next year's city elections, the seat carries with it the advantage of incumbency.

Ms. Reeves says she would not serve past Ms. McLean's unexpired term. In fact, she seems to want the position largely because its $53,000 salary would give her a higher pension when she retires from city government. A better pension is not a good enough reason to elevate her to higher office, especially in light of her involvement in unethical efforts by members of the council to influence Ms. McLean's trial on corruption charges.

Mr. Bell, in contrast, would run for his own term as a comptroller next year. He might even be on the ticket with Ms. Clarke, who is seeking to prevent Mr. Schmoke from being elected to the third term. That's why the Schmoke forces are so intent on making sure Mr. Bell will not win the vacancy, and why there is so much lobbying and strong-arming going on.

This is a spectacle the city doesn't need. At a time when the citizens of Baltimore need to be reassured about the integrity of the comptroller's office, the city's two most powerful elected officials seem more interested in power games and one-upmanship. In that climate, it's hardly surprising that many Baltimoreans are coming to the conclusion that the city really doesn't need a comptroller at all.

We are particularly disappointed that Mr. Schmoke got involving in promoting Ms. Reeves, who has scant qualifications for the office. From the start, he should have thrown his support behind Shirley Williams, who has been acting comptroller since Ms. McLean went on leave Dec. 20 and who has made it clear she has no intention of serving beyong Ms. McLean's unexpired term.

In our view, Ms. Williams continues to be the best candidate to fill out the term. She is a caretaker who is already in place and is not angling to use the job for political or personal gain.

We strongly urge the City Council to elect her to succeed Ms. McLean. By doing so, council members could demonstrate that they can at least put good government above temporary gain in a political power battle.

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