Schmoke vs. Bell Die is cast: Mayor and new City Council president already at odds.

November 25, 1995

THE ACRIMONY BETWEEN City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke reached the point that if one said it was day you half expected the other to claim it was night. Unfortunately, it now looks as though Mr. Schmoke's relationship with Council President-elect Lawrence A. Bell III won't be any better.

Mr. Schmoke gave department heads standing orders not to perform constituent services requested by Mrs. Clarke unless he personally approved them. Conversely, she was said to have moles inside City Hall who secretly gave her the schedule for new public works projects so she could claim responsibility for them before the mayor did.

This friction wasn't all bad. It did give the public confidence that the administration would not quietly steamroll its way down some questionable path without Mrs. Clarke offering, at the least, a squawk of protest. A legislative check of the executive was thus provided, even though the mayor usually overcame any challenge that originated within the council with ease.

Still, it had been hoped that the next council president would move beyond this point, developing a relationship with Mr. Schmoke that allowed them to disagree without resorting to pettiness. But even before Mr. Bell's swearing-in, Mr. Schmoke has taken steps to make the man who may be his opponent in the 1999 mayor's race very angry.

Mr. Schmoke is backing Shelia Dixon, a frequent critic of Mr. Bell, for council vice president. And Mr. Schmoke has hired Vera Hall, who ran against Mr. Bell in the Democratic primary, as his council liaison. The two could undermine any voting alignment Mr. Bell tries to form with the council's six new members.

Mr. Bell has taken personal offense at Mr. Schmoke's maneuvers, saying he thought they had agreed to be more conciliatory. Having served two council terms, perhaps Mr. Bell shouldn't have been so optimistic. But we share his hopes that he and the mayor can work together for the common good.

Both of these politicians need to remember that Baltimore is best served by a mayor and council president who above all else have the city's welfare as their principal interest. They need not agree or disagree all the time, but they must always try to do what is best for Baltimore -- not what will benefit them in future elections.

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