Voters to decide on limits CAMPAIGN 1994

August 29, 1994|By Joel Obermayer | Joel Obermayer,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Holly Selby contributed to this article.

A grass-roots advocacy group aiming to phase out "career politicians" has succeeded in putting a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot that will allow Baltimore voters to decide if the mayor and others should be limited to two terms in office.

The measure, sponsored by Marylanders for Term Limits, would apply to all city officials -- including the comptroller and City Council members -- elected in November 1995. If it passes, elected officials could serve no more than two four-year terms.

"Incumbency is a terrible, terrible thing," said Lisa Renshaw, chairwoman of the advocacy group. "People get so comfortable, they spend their time trying to keep their position instead of doing anything."

Ms. Renshaw -- who was among the unsuccessful 1992 Republican congressional primary challengers to 1st District incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest -- and others were able to gather the 10,000 signatures needed to put the referendum on the general election ballot.

She predicted passage of the measure, which is in the form of a city charter amendment. "[The measure] is not an issue you have to sell to people, we don't have to argue for it," she said.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said she supports limits at the local level, but not the federal level.

"I think that for any given elected job in Baltimore City, eight years gives you the chance to combine energy and experience in getting things done for people. After that, you need to make room for the next generation," said Mrs. Clarke, who was elected to the City Council in 1975 and is running for mayor.

At the federal level, experience and power gained over the years are assets, she said.

Ms. Renshaw said that if politicians had a limited time in elected office, the power of incumbency would be reduced and there would be fewer "career" politicians.

Term limits, she said, would open up the political field for more women and minorities, and those elected would get things done faster.

Organizers say they hope to build momentum for similar measures in counties around the state and to put pressure on the General Assembly to pass a term limits law for the state.

Officials in some counties -- such as Anne Arundel and Howard -- are already subject to term limits. Gathering the signatures to get the referendum on the ballot cost about $28,000, according to C. Nelson Warfield, a Montgomery County lawyer who helped with the drive.

The advocacy group did not start collecting signatures until June, when it teamed with Morning Sunday, a Baltimore grass-roots activist.

Ms. Sunday said she rented a storefront near Memorial Stadium and hired about 100 people to gather signatures. She also recruited about 40 volunteers.

Ms. Sunday said she had been interested in the term limits issue for several years as a way to "reinvigorate" city politics.

"Career politicians may be so involved in [seeking re-election] that they may not know what they need to do their jobs well," she said.

Some elected officials, however, do not support the measure.

"This is something that Republicans have tried to do for a long time. It illustrates their inability to elect somebody," said Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat, who is serving his third term on the all-Democratic City Council.

"Why is it that Republicans hate experience? Would they want to go to a doctor with only eight years' experience? It seems short-sighted, to place artificial borders where the constituency has the means to limit the terms of anyone," he said.

Placing limits on the length of time elected officials can serve wouldn't solve anything, said Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, a 5th District Democrat, who was appointed to the City Council in 1977 and plans to seek her fourth term next year.

The measure may cause "really good people, who take their jobs seriously and are appreciated by their constituency, for no reason to be forced to be out of office," Ms. Spector said. "The ballot box should be the determinant."

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