Lackluster Council President Race

June 13, 1995

In a sharp contrast to the spirited campaign for mayor between incumbent Kurt L. Schmoke and Mary Pat Clarke, the race to succeed Ms. Clarke as City Council president has been a giant yawn so far. Four Democratic council members are eyeing the No. 2 elected office in the city government but none has been able to stir much excitement or enthusiasm for their candidacy.

Yet the City Council president's job is a pivotal one. Its occupant chairs the meetings of the Board of Estimates, the city's day-to-day board of directors; presides over an often rancorous 18-member City Council, and succeeds the mayor if a vacancy develops. In Baltimore's form of city government, the mayor has sweeping powers. The City Council president can -- and often does -- act as a counterweight.

If the current candidates in the race to succeed Ms. Clarke are judged according to the ultimate criteria -- could they step in for the mayor? -- they would come up lacking. This is understandable. Few newly elected City Council presidents are immediately viewed as mayoral quality, which is fine as long as they are capable of personal growth and have leadership potential.

The current field -- council members Lawrence Bell, Joseph DiBlasi, Vera Hall and Carl Stokes -- hasn't been impressive. The contest clearly could use some additional talent.

The type of candidates we have in mind are people like Nathan Irby, a former state senator and councilman; Dels. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. and Elijah E. Cummings; former councilman Jody T. Landers, and Del. Timothy D. Murphy, who resigned his council seat after he was elected to the General Assembly last year. There may be others. The filing deadline is July 3.

Urging additional candidates to enter the race this late would ordinarily be foolhardy. The difference this year is that none of the existing candidates has citywide name recognition and none is well financed. This presents an opportunity for an aggressive contender who would be doing the citizens of Baltimore a favor.

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