City Council in last session Pushing pay raise may be swan song for departing members

October 02, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

For the outgoing Baltimore City Council, tonight's return to a final fall session is a bittersweet occasion marked by hopes of pushing through a pay raise and finishing personal projects before having to bid farewell.

The 19-member council is on the verge of a major transformation: It is about to change a third of its members in the wake of September's Democratic primary election. For the first time in Baltimore's history, the council also is poised to become predominantly African-American.

Although goodbyes seldom are forever in politics, Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who lost a hard-fought challenge to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, and several other longtime incumbents intend to quit City Hall for good after the eight-week session.

"There will be a lot of people there who aren't going to be there next time," said Martin O'Malley, who represents the 3rd District and prevailed in the primary. "I guess we'll try to finish up things and see if we're still on speaking terms with our colleagues after the campaign."

Council members expect the open rivalry and attempts at one-upmanship that overshadowed the legislative agenda of the past year to be muted now that the election is over.

By last spring, the council had become fractured and chaotic, largely because of Mrs. Clarke's mayoral aspirations and the scramble among four of her colleagues to succeed her. The final session, in contrast, will be "simple and quiet," said Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. of the 1st District.

Just how quiet remains to be seen. A hallmark of the outgoing council has been its activism -- and its colorful clash of personalities. One notable example: Mr. D'Adamo and John L. Cain feud so constantly that a colleague tries to keep peace by giving each a piece of candy before meetings.

With little time until the next council is sworn into office in mid-December, after the Nov. 7 general election, most members are focusing on completing projects they have begun instead of beginning new ones.

Mr. O'Malley is trying to win a court battle to subpoena the chairman of Baltimore's public housing commissioners to testify about the $25.6 million no-bid housing scandal. Mr. Cain wants to ban mega-bars. Vera P. Hall wants to resuscitate her long-stalled evictions litter measure.

The most controversial issue being discussed is a pay raise, which would be the first for city elected officials in eight years. A wage commission has proposed increasing the mayor's salary to $100,000 a year from $60,000, council members' pay to $35,000 from $29,000, and the salaries of the comptroller and council president from to $55,000 from $53,000.

Any pay raises must be approved by the council now to go into effect for the next four-year term that begins in December.

For six people, the session is a last chance, a time to say farewell, a chance to make a mark.

First and foremost among them is Mrs. Clarke, one of Baltimore's most popular politicians during her 16 years in the council, the last eight as its president.

Also departing are: Mrs. Hall, Carl Stokes, and Joseph J. DiBlasi, all of whom have been on the council for at least two terms and who lost in the council presidency race to Lawrence A. Bell III. Two of the council's most veteran members -- Iris G. Reeves and Martin E. "Mike" Curran, who is known as "the dean," are retiring.

Some council members still face Republican challenges, although victory in the Democratic primary is tantamount to election in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. One is Mr. Bell, who has to defeat Republican Anthony D. Cobb in the general election.

The short, outgoing session gives the primary winners a chance to put together an agenda for the next year -- and posture for better positions on the council. Already, Sheila Dixon, Agnes Welch, Anthony J. Ambridge and Paula Johnson Branch are maneuvering to become the mayor's next floor leader.

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