Schmoke's new start

September 13, 1995

As decisive as it was, Kurt L. Schmoke's victory in yesterday's Democratic primary must have had a bitter-sweet quality for the two-term Baltimore mayor. Sweet because a victory is always joyous and a majority of Baltimore voters reaffirmed their faith in him. Bitter because so many citizens had expressed misgivings about his eight years of leadership that they made City Council President Mary Pat Clarke a credible contender who threatened the mayor's shoo-in status.

We congratulate Mr. Schmoke on his nomination. Baltimore is such a Democratic city that his November general election victory is a foregone conclusion. Now to the tough tasks at hand.

The emotions of the campaign tell volumes about how Baltimoreans feel about their city and the performance of their mayor's administration. They want change; they want a city that functions better than it has during the past eight years.

If Mr. Schmoke is smart, he will use this occasion to thoroughly revamp his administration. Without regard to friendships or loyalty, he should replace all those department heads and middle-level managers who have performed inadequately.

This is the time for him to address the consistent complaint that his personal staff does not function well, fails to return telephone calls or messes up scheduled meetings. Until now, Mr. Schmoke has refused to act on these complaints, choosing to surround himself with protective gatekeepers rather than top-notch administrators.

Mr. Schmoke now has a chance to change that, a chance to become a more effective mayor. We hope he uses this opportunity to make the city bureaucracy user-friendly, to simplify cumbersome processes and improve responsiveness. Much of Mary Pat Clarke's attraction to voters was the perception that she gets things done and that her office communicates well with constituents.

On a political level, Mr. Schmoke would do well to rethink his relationship with Larry S. Gibson, his behind-the-scenes political mentor and strategist. The way we read the results, voters were fed up with this boss, his tendency to polarize issues along racial lines and his law firm's incestuous contractual relationship with the administration.

Such strategic decisions -- made with Mr. Schmoke's full approval -- led to a fleeting spurt for Mrs. Clark in opinion polls. Now that the election is over, Mr. Schmoke has to devote himself to healing and unification. The citizens of Baltimore share a common goal; they must pull together if the city is to overcome the challenges it faces in the next four years.

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