Here is Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke excusing irregularities detailed by the The Sun in a public housing repairs program:
"Only federal funds, not local tax dollars, were used for this program. These funds would have gone back to Washington if they had not been used. The federal government continues to send new funds to Baltimore for new housing programs."
These sentences crystallize what's wrong with the Schmoke administration and with the national Democratic Party. At a time when the Democrats' business-as-usual attitude is increasingly under scrutiny for overhaul and change, they still do not see the handwriting on the wall.
If the mayor takes this kind of cavalier attitude toward federal funds -- which, after all, come from taxpayers -- it is no wonder many Marylanders, particularly legislators in the General Assembly, are leery about the way the city spends aid money.
A federal grand jury is currently probing the Housing Authority's rehab program which, in a scramble to repair inferior units, awarded $25 million worth of no-bid contracts. So far, this probe has resulted in nine convictions of authority staff members and contractors who bribed them.
The probers are curious about the considerable no-bid contract work that went to cronies of Mayor Schmoke and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III -- and to hastily created companies that had little or no previous construction experience.
We don't know at this stage what the federal probe will reveal. But we do know that the Housing Authority's failure to screen the contractors or monitor compliance with work orders and cost estimates requires stricter internal controls in this federally financed agency.
Did Mr. Schmoke pledge to provide them?
No. He pronounced himself happy with the overall results of the no-bid program. Whatever problems existed in its execution, he suggested, were unimportant because "only federal funds, not local tax dollars, were used for this program."
Mr. Schmoke's nonchalance in important matters like these is a compelling reason why Baltimore City ought to have a truly contested mayoral election campaign this year. It is healthy that City Council President Mary Pat Clarke has officially declared her challenge to Mr. Schmoke's re-election bid for a third term. But that is not enough. Republicans and independents also should field credible alternative candidates.