Petitions seek vote on terms

August 11, 1994|By Melody Simmons and Elaine Tassy | Melody Simmons and Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writers

An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly characterized the re-election plans of Baltimore City Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd. He will seek re-election.

The Sun regrets the error.

Baltimore voters might get a chance this fall to decide whether to set term limits on the mayor, comptroller and City Council members -- a key test in a movement to establish such limits statewide.

A grass-roots organization has collected nearly 30,000 signatures on petitions calling for a limit of two consecutive four-year terms on the city's top elected officials. Once the petitions are reviewed, the referendum question would be placed before Baltimore voters in the Nov. 8 general election, in the form of a city charter amendment.


If approved by voters, the limits would apply to all city officials elected in November 1995. An incumbent would be able to serve two more consecutive terms.

"People are fed up with the system," said C. Nelson Warfield, a Montgomery County lawyer representing Marylanders for Term Limits. "They want to take government back from the career politicians."

Commenting on the group's statewide campaign for term limits, he added, "A victory in Baltimore would be a tremendous boost. . . . Baltimore is definitely a key test."

The Baltimore campaign mirrors anti-incumbent sentiment in other parts of Maryland -- and the nation.

County officials in Anne Arundel and Howard counties, for example, already are subject to term limits. Such limits also affect some or all elected city officials in Annapolis, Aberdeen, University Park, Highland Beach and Glenarden, said Jonathan Magruder, Senior Staff Associate for research with Maryland Municipal League.

Voters in Dallas, Kansas City, Phoenix and New Orleans also have approved term limits for elected officials. In Arkansas and the state of Washington, voters have approved term limits on congressional seats, though those limits face court challenges.

The Baltimore petition drive was led by the Baltimore Coalition for Citizen Empowerment, which collected 29,748 signatures in shopping centers and neighborhoods.

"I felt we need a more responsive politician," said Morning Sunday, a community activist who led the drive. "I did it because of the crime rate in the community and because of the astronomical rate at which our children are being killed on the streets, and I did it for our families in our city."

Ms. Sunday said that she and other members of the coalition, which contains 15 local groups, blame career politicians for the crime and blight that plague Baltimore.

The term limits proposal is being reviewed by Baltimore officials to confirm that the issue can be addressed by a charter amendment and that the petitions contain at least 10,000 signatures from registered city voters.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke noted that the issue of term limits did not arise in charter revision hearings this year. He added, "I look forward to discussing this with people, but I don't have a position on it at this time. I am interested, however, in knowing who wants to change the rules now, and why."

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who plans to challenge the mayor next year, endorsed the movement to impose term limits.

"I think two terms in local government gives you the chance to get in, get going, get done and get out," she said. "In general, you learn your way around, get done what needs to be done and then you start to repeat yourself."

She also said the term limits would allow more people to participate in government.

"It's not a bad concept," said City Councilman Martin O'Malley, who represents Northeast Baltimore in the 3rd District. "I'd just like to see it throughout government. I don't think you should do it at the local level but then not do it at the state level or federal level."

Mr. O'Malley, who has served three years of his first term, doesn't plan to run again because he wants to spend more time with his family. "I think you do your bit and move on."

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