City Council choosing sides Freshmen orientation: With seven new members, panel is still shaping its identity.

June 29, 1996

IT WOULD BE wrong to base an assessment of the current Baltimore City Council on its repudiation of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's proposal to raise the city's piggyback income tax. Even with seven new faces on the panel, Mr. Schmoke carries a lot of weight with this council. Only five typically oppose his proposals, with nine others either solidly in his camp or more often leaning in that direction.

The vote against his tax proposal had more to do with council members' fear that voting for a tax increase would come back to haunt them at re-election time, especially since Mr. Schmoke made such a poor case for the revenue measure. Even those council members considered to be in the mayor's pocket abstained rather than vote for the doomed tax hike.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III has five votes he can usually count on. He can do better, as he did with his plan to speed up early retirements to lessen the need for a tax increase. But many council members haven't forgiven Mr. Bell for the sneaky way he tried to oust Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III by calling for a quick vote before most of them had even entered their chambers.

If one were forced to fill out a scorecard, listed on the mayor's team now would be -- 6th District: Melvin Stukes, Norman Handy and Edward Reisinger; 2nd District: Paula Branch and Bob Douglass; 4th District: Shelia Dixon; 3rd District: Bobby Curran. On Mr. Bell's team would be -- 1st District: Lois Garey, Nick D'Adamo and John Cain; 3rd District: Joan Carter Conway and Martin O'Malley. Bell supporter Tony Ambridge has resigned his 2nd District seat to head the city real estate office.

The swing votes are 4th District council members Agnes Welch and Keiffer Mitchell and 5th District representatives Rikki Spector, Helen Holton and Stephanie Rawlings. But freshmen Mitchell and Rawlings appear closer to the mayor. Ms. Rawlings reportedly was one of the council members using a cellular telephone to keep in close touch with mayoral aide Vera Hall during council meetings on the budget.

But none of the alliances appeared set in stone as the new council ended its first session. Mr. Bell and Mr. Schmoke worked closely to develop the $2 billion budget. That was in marked contrast to the contentiousness between Mr. Schmoke and former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who was running for mayor much of her final two years in office. Perhaps there can be a new day at City Hall, one where cooperation wins out over divisiveness.

Pub date: 06/29/96

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