Elect to do this

September 12, 1995|By Milton Bates

LAST WEEK saw an outpouring of community love for Baltimore's favorite athlete who responded with thanks both simple and healing (note Cal Ripken's tribute to Eddie Murray). Today a much confused electorate makes its choice, ending a mayoral race more divisive than any in recent memory.

Soon we will know who the razor-thin winner (if the polls are accurate) is. That primary election victor will face enormous problems whose solutions will not all be in his or her hands. But those hands do hold much power and the way in which it is used will help shape our city's future.

To begin, the city's chief executive must not blame Baltimore's ills on the actions or inactions of his/her predecessor. Both the Kurt Schmoke and Mary Pat Clarke campaigns engaged in this perhaps profitable electioneering device. But such charges do not help govern a city. A serious mayor should have sufficient respect for our communities to avoid such superficial accusations.

The difficult and complex task awaiting the city is this: to coalesce so that Baltimore can again wield political, economic and cultural power. Coalition politics respects differences and cannot be built on exacerbating those differences. Campaigns that feed tensions among groups already too distrusting of each other help to destroy both. They elicit the worst in us and become a self-fulfilling prophecy of Baltimore's downward slide.

This city is indeed home to a poorer population than its surrounding counties. But Baltimore is also the center and heart of the entire region. What would this metropolitan area be without its museums, symphony, theater, the zoo, the science center, and -- despite its absence on their uniforms -- the Baltimore Orioles? Would new industry come without Baltimore's universities and medical facilities? Can existing industries and institutions attract top-notch people to a region barren of these amenities?

The answer is obvious: "no." But support for the cultural institutions is provided by a city which increasingly resembles a 9-to-5 stopover. The area profits, the city pays.

Cultural institutions are infrastructure, heart and soul without which regional life cannot be sustained. Political subdivisions cannot contain them and simple equity demands that all who profit pay.

Finally, as we know too well, none of this will matter if we cannot walk our streets without fear, send our children to schools where they learn the skills needed in today's technologically demanding world and pay taxes reasonably equivalent to those in surrounding subdivisions. These are the preconditions for attracting jobs to the city and stopping the flow of its people to the suburbs.

Choices remain and hope survives for our beloved town. Let the mayor-to-be get beyond Babbitry and provide a vision that mobilizes our citizens and their many talents. The will exists; a revitalized leadership can seize the opportunity.

Milton Bates writes from Baltimore.

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