City Council: blind ambition

March 03, 1995

If members of the Baltimore City Council spent half as much time on public policy issues as they do on petty political angling and self-serving posturing, perhaps the city would be in better shape.

This kind of jockeying motivated by blind ambition is especially bad in this election year. Several council members have set their sights on the forthcoming vacancies in the City Council president's and comptroller's posts and use every conceivable forum to further their fortunes. But, then, self-promotion is second nature for politicians.

Far more serious is the council's recent penchant for introducing non-binding resolutions.

"Lately, it has become a resolution council," observes Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd.

Hot-air resolutions of various stripes -- from the puffery of the consent calendar to declarations of global import -- have long crowded the council's agenda. The new wrinkle is that council members are introducing non-binding resolutions with a given piece of legislation, trying to channel it for a hearing by a favorable committee.

"It's ludicrous," says Councilwoman Rochelle Rikki Spector, D-5th. "I think it shows a total lack of respect for the system. The whole committee structure is in jeopardy."

Ordinarily, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke assigns newly introduced legislation for a hearing by the appropriate committee. But she is running for mayor. Not wanting to antagonize current or potential political allies, she has let council members introduce non-binding resolutions which make those assignment recommendations.

When Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd, recently asked for an investigation of the propriety of using a city grand jury to "promote the repeal of state drug laws," he introduced a resolution to assign it to a committee headed by Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, D-4th, rather than Councilwoman Spector. Mr. Bell wants to be the next City Council president and is known for flashy oratory.

Even when Ms. Clarke decides on hearings, her assignments are often judgment calls. Committees have overlapping jurisdictions. She once assigned one incinerator bill to the land-use committee and another one to the health committee. Yet these are decisions that should be made by the president and not by council members bent on promoting themselves or their political friends.

The addition of two short-timers to fill vacancies in the First and Sixth Districts, Lois A. Garey and the Rev. Norman A. Handy Sr., offers a good occasion for the council to mend its ways. The council's failure to do so ought to add fire to the bellies of all who want to unseat incumbents in the Sept. 12 primary.

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