Accusations fly as mayoral race reaches climax CAMPAIGN 1995

September 02, 1995|By Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich | Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

In the final, frantic days before Baltimore's Sept. 12 Democratic mayoral primary, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and rival Mary Pat Clarke are attacking each other's record -- and trading accusations of distorting the facts.

The two clashed repeatedly during a television debate Thursday night, with Mr. Schmoke charging that the City Council President "uses false numbers" and "continues to mislead people." Mrs. Clarke shot back that, "It's time for Kurt Schmoke to stop distorting my record and his own."

Who's right? In a sense, they both are.

* JOBS:

In criticizing Mr. Schmoke's record on the economy, Mrs. Clarke repeatedly has cited the figure 65,500 as the number of jobs the city has lost during the mayor's tenure. Sometimes she is careful to note that the loss occurred since 1989, but often she leaves the impression that the figure gives a complete picture of the Schmoke record.

One problem with that figure is that it is derived from taking monthly figures that tend to fluctuate widely with seasonal employment. Using more reliable annual average monthly employment figures, the loss is actually 61,900, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A larger problem is that Mr. Schmoke took office in 1987, not 1989. Jobs actually increased during the mayor's first year and a half in office, peaking in mid-1989.

In 1987, the city's average monthly employment was 459,700, according to the bureau. In 1994, it was 411,000 -- about what it was in the second quarter of this year. Thus, the number of jobs lost during Mr. Schmoke's eight years in office is 48,700.

* POLICE CUTS:

The Schmoke campaign is portraying Mrs. Clarke as a Janie-Come-Lately when it comes to increasing the police force. Mr. Schmoke says Mrs. Clarke talks about adding 216 officers to the force now, but says that two years ago he had to veto a budget she helped ram through the council that included a property tax cut but did not include money for an additional 120 police officers that he wanted to hire.

Mr. Schmoke did veto the budget the council budget for fiscal year 1994, the first mayoral budget veto in more than 90 years, saying the city could not afford both more police and a property tax reduction. The mayor's veto was upheld by the council, and a new budget he wanted, containing funds for more police, was passed over Mrs. Clarke's objections.

But the initial budget backed by Mrs. Clarke and passed by the council that year did in fact include money for more police officers, funded by reductions in the contributions to the police and fire retirement fund. The problem with the budget was that it funded the property tax cut by sharp reductions in crucial construction and maintenance items that could have threatened the city's high bond-rating, including $900,000 in economic development projects.

Bottom line: 1993's battle of the budget had more to do with fiscal stability than public safety.

* DROPOUT RATE:

In Thursday night's debate, Mrs. Clarke described the city's public schools as "in chaos" and emphasized anew her oft-repeated assertion that 60 percent of the students entering ninth grade do not graduate from high school. "That's a disgrace," she said.

Indeed, based on one state measure that looks at school "holding power," only 38.9 percent of the 9,051 students who started as ninth-graders were counted four years later. The other 61.1 percent had left the schools, but not all had dropped out forever; some moved, hardly the fault of the school system, and others returned later to complete their education.

Another state measure has found 15 percent of students in Baltimore schools dropout in one year -- compared to slightly less than 5 percent statewide. The figure is based on the percentage of students who drop out in one school year, and takes into account those that leave when their families move, or return midway through the year.

You don't get the overall dropout figure by multiplying the rate times the number of years. Rather, you take 15 percent of the number of ninth-graders and subtract that number from the total; then take 15 percent of the remainder and repeat the process two more times.

And so, by those calculations, the graduation rate is 53 percent, not 40 percent.

* SPENDING

Mr. Schmoke compares Mrs. Clarke to Dennis Kucinich, a former mayor of Cleveland, saying her programs would bankrupt the city. "My opponent will also try to pay for things with all kinds of promises and probably borrow the city into debt," he said.

In fact, the council president has proposed few major expensive programs. Her biggest item would be to hire 216 police officers. Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier puts the cost of hiring and equipping those officers at $9 million. Mrs. Clarke has yet to say where she would get the money to pay for them. While not an insignificant amount, the sum is equivalent to just 1 percent of the city's $800 million general fund.

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