In the world of snow, is mayor in Twilight Zone?

January 24, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

A column in yesterday's Maryland section misstated Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's middle name, Lidell.

The Sun regrets the error.

Submitted for your approval is one Kurt Louis Schmoke, beleaguered mayor of a large East Coast city. Recently re-elected by a large majority, the mayor soon became afflicted with delusions of grandeur and competence, leading him to a bend in the road that leads to: The Twilight Zone.

Rod Serling, where are you now that you're really needed? "The Twilight Zone" creator and writer might have written just such an opening -- albeit somewhat better -- for an episode about the beloved mayor of Charm City -- clearly living in a parallel universe where 90 percent of the streets were plowed after the recent blizzard.


On Friday, Sun reporter JoAnna Daemmrich wrote an article after a peeved Mayor Schmoke lashed out at critics of what -- facetiously, I hope -- has been referred to as the city's snow removal efforts. To quote from Ms. Daemmrich's story, the mayor saw the endeavor this way:

" 'This was an unusual event, and I believe firmly that the overwhelming majority of our citizens think we did a good job.' " The mayor maintained that more than 90 percent of Baltimore's 33,000 blocks have been cleared to the point that they are passable, despite continued grumbling from some residents about piles of snow on side streets."

"In an academic setting," Hizzoner continued in the article, "90 percent is an A."

But the Blizzard of '96, with its 2 feet of snow resulting in semiplowed main streets that led to the Commute From Hell of 1996 was hardly an academic setting. It was the real world. And in the real world, sometimes 90 percent just won't cut it, even if we assume the figure is accurate. And there is reason to doubt that it is.

I spent most of Friday visiting my eldest sister at Sinai Hospital. I took the time to ask several employees who lived in the city if their streets had been plowed. The responses ranged from hoots of derision to looks of disdain. One Highlandtown woman said several two-lane main thoroughfares had only one lane plowed. Few side streets had been plowed.

By contrast, my sister's best friend, who said she lives on the same block as the mayor, claimed her block was plowed several times.

Teresa Caruthers, interviewed for Ms. Daemmrich's story, said there was "virgin snow" on her block. Another interviewee, Charles Cochran, said of his block in the 3400 block of Rosalie Ave.: "Nothing has been done here. No plow, no salt truck, and I haven't seen one in 35 years."

That sums up the ultimate insult of the mayor's tirade. I've lived on my block nine years. We've never -- I repeat, never -- had the city plow our block after a snowstorm. It didn't matter whether the accumulation was 2 inches or 2 feet.

Mind you, we don't complain about this sorry state of affairs -- although as taxpayers we could be as picky and truculent as some mayors are and insist that our tax dollars entitle our block to be plowed as often as, say, oh, Kurt Schmoke's, perhaps. But we do ask, after many of us took the initiative and dug out our own blocks, that the mayor not give the credit to the city public works department but to our muscles, some of which still are aching.

Some commuters traveling between Baltimore County and the city reported that Dutch Ruppersberger's county folks did a better job. They claim that main thoroughfares had all lanes plowed in the county and that the commute became a slow, single-file, one-lane crawl once they hit city limits. So the county won this one. It lost the last one -- the ice storms of the Winter That Would Not End from 1993 to 1994.

Then, the city clearly did a better job then. Clear city streets soon became treacherous, ice-slicked roads when you hit the county. But don't look for the mayor to concede defeat. You can tell this guy quarterbacked City College football teams that went undefeated for 18 straight games.

But as a Baltimorean who has never had his street plowed, I find myself getting a bit peeved at his defensiveness and his assertion of an excellent job well-done. I figure I've got some gripes of my own. So the mayor can tell them to his pals, the governor and President Clinton. He can tell them to the hordes of West Baltimore voters who re-elected him overwhelmingly and seem to genuflect at the mere mention of his name. He can tell them to anyone who might give a tinker's damn.

Lord knows, I don't.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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