Hizzoner Contemplates A Career Move

April 24, 1997|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- Wonderful! Kurt Schmoke, having done such a splendid job making Baltimore the thriving city it is today, is thinking about asking Marylanders to send him to the United States Senate in the year 2000. That would really get the new millennium off on a positive note.

Certainly Marylanders out in the provinces will look forward with keen anticipation to expressing their opinions at the polls concerning Mr. Schmoke's proposed new career. From the Appalachian west to the Eastern Shore, which the mayor's predecessor once described in quaintly scatological terms, rural people have some well developed views about Baltimore and its current leadership.

It would be a great campaign to cover. Imagine Baltimore's mayor, or perhaps by then former mayor, out on the hustings. See him in Accident, where most violent crime is perpetrated by bears, proudly explaining how much safer Baltimore became during his incumbency, with the murder rate plunging to below one a day as potential victims fled to the suburbs.

Visualize him in depressed Crisfield, perhaps surrounded by crab pickers, promising to bring to Somerset County the same kind of economic salvation he has brought to Baltimore. Or think of him in historic Leonardtown, a couple of beaming school children on his knee, promising to make Maryland The State What Reads.

Will the ordinary citizenry, everyday people who hold down jobs or operate farms or small businesses, be impressed with what they see? Will they like the idea of Sen. Kurt Schmoke looking after their interests in Washington, side by side with that other Baltimore character, Barbara Mikulski? Some might; together, those two would make a picturesque team.

He's a fine fellow, this Schmoke. He was once a fair athlete. He's been to Yale, where his friends the Clintons got their legal education, and like the president he's been polished by a stint at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He's a lawyer, but not of the weasely sort. And he does seem to mean well. His personal integrity is intact. Offering him a bribe would not be a good move.

Whatever his electability today, it's remembered that he used to have great potential. Years back it was thought that he could even be elected governor, if he could only learn to enunciate policies appealing to the broad Maryland electorate rather than to his party's poohbahs and sacred cows.

As a smart, smooth African-American politician, had be been able to challenge the labor kingpins, left-wing academics, victim-group alliances, social-services profiteers and media camp followers who tend to dictate Democratic dogma, he might in 1994 have stood out in an otherwise undistinguished field.

Especially if he had embraced causes such as tax reduction, economic competitiveness and a serious crackdown on violent crime, he would have been enormously appealing to middle-of-the-road Marylanders looking for common sense and an excuse not to vote Republican. And he would have had the additional advantage of not being, and not even resembling, William Donald Schaefer.

No pretense

But either he couldn't manage the necessary shift of philosophical gears, or Larry Gibson and his other controllers wouldn't let him. He abandoned any pretense of being either an original thinker or a true political contrarian, and to no one's real surprise no Schmoke campaign for governor ever developed. Instead, he and Parris Glendening, soul brothers in their instinctive political tepidity, embraced one another. Baltimore went for Mr. Glendening, effecting his election, and an important political debt went on the books in Mr. Schmoke's favor.

There will of course be other elections before the Senate campaign of 2000, and their outcome will bear indirectly on Mr. Schmoke's future. Next year Mr. Glendening will be seeking a second term, which at this point is by no means assured, and the year after that Mr. Schmoke will have to decide whether to seek a fourth term as mayor.

If Mr. Glendening were to win next year, maybe he would want to run for the Senate in 2000, resigning the governorship if elected and turning the state over to his enormously popular lieutenant governor, whose name escapes me at the moment. Or if Mr. Schmoke were to run again for mayor in 1999 and lose, perish the thought, it might tarnish his prospects for statewide office -- even though there are voters out in the hinterlands who would consider a candidate's rejection by Baltimore as a factor in his favor.

Obviously, this would all become idle speculation if Sen. Paul Sarbanes should decide in the year 2000 to seek a fifth term. But the odds are that he won't do that, anticipating appointment instead to a cabinet post or a seat on the Supreme Court by President Al Gore. In that brave new world, a freshman Senator Schmoke could vote for his confirmation.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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