Schmoke tries new approach Legacy: In his determination to promote construction of the Wyndham Hotel at Inner Harbor East, the mayor is using a style reminiscent of predecessor William Donald Schaefer.

The Political Game

December 16, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

IN THE summer of 1995, while running for a third term, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke challenged the view that Baltimore had been reborn.

"When I took over the reins of city government," he said, putting down his predecessor, "Baltimore was enjoying a cosmetic renaissance."

The city faced a cloudy future, Schmoke said. But wouldn't it have been much stormier if William Donald Schaefer had not led the city to a skyline full of new construction, an unlikely new tourism industry, a thriving Inner Harbor (which amounted to a new Main Street) and thousands of new jobs?

These advances were dismissed by candidate Schmoke in August 1995, as so much urban renewal eyewash.

But now, two years later, Schmoke may be reaching for the renaissance rouge himself.

With single-minded determination reminiscent of Schaefer, he suddenly wields the power of Baltimore's strong-mayor form of government to promote construction of a Wyndham Hotel at Inner Harbor East.

Peremptorily setting aside planning guidelines and offering large cash subsidies to a private developer, he is criticized by some for recklessly testing the limits of his authority to favor the developer, John Paterakis. What makes it all so stunning is the relative lack of anything like it over the course of his decade in office.

Schaefer repeatedly and defiantly took then-unpopular positions in favor of everything from the National Aquarium and World Trade Center to the Pride of Baltimore and public art that many Baltimoreans regarded as folly, if not wasteful. From the start, he presented himself as a battler willing to drive his administration across the grain of public opinion if that was necessary to remain true to his build-it-now vision.

As much as he mistrusted planning, citizens could see where Schaefer was headed. In time, they joined him.

Schmoke's current adventure rises against almost no backdrop. Had he been pushing as relentlessly as his predecessor, eyebrows might not be arching so sharply.

"The mayor is a nice man who has no more promotional ability than a fly on the moon," Schaefer once said of his successor.

Now, though, as he celebrates 10 years in office, Schmoke could be looking for a mayoral legacy.

Baltimoreans may ask themselves what tangible thing will be left to them when the Schmoke administration becomes history.

Schaefer's fans could point to an entire skyline of buildings were they asked a similar question. And they could list the Baltimore School for the Arts, Hackerman House at the Walters Art Gallery, public sculpture and millions of dollars worth of federally financed neighborhood improvements.

Schmoke could say his stewardship sustained the city when those federal dollars disappeared. He could point to the Sandtown-Winchester project as proof of his commitment to out-of-sight, inner city neighborhoods. He could recall his courageous political decision to give up some control of schools in exchange for the extraordinary help needed to save them.

But until now, he has not been identified with a highly visible symbol of economic hope and progress. Is it possible that he has borrowed Schaefer's vision of the city's waterside destiny? Nothing to be ashamed of there: Schaefer often said he was continuing the work of Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin who started Baltimore toward its renaissance, cosmetic or otherwise; and the two Tommies -- Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. and his son, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, who kept it moving.

Schmoke is taking a big gamble: If the hotel is built, by no means a certainty, and stimulates growth, it could be as worthy a monument as any, a statement that Schmoke was willing to take risks for a better Baltimore. But, perhaps, nothing is being reborn here as much as Schmoke himself.

Md. Republicans attempt to counter racial image

Republicans are "perceived as not listening or caring" about race relations and minority concerns in America, but yesterday the GOP in Maryland began an effort to counter that view.

Joyce Lyons Terhes, the party's chair in Maryland, announced a program called REACH: Republican Effort to Achieve Racial Harmony.

At a news conference in the Zion Temple Fellowship Church in Northwest Baltimore, Terhes and several party officials announced a community forum to discuss REACH aims on Jan. 21 at Zion.

"Our call for a quality school system, safe neighborhoods and individual responsibility are very important to Baltimore City," she said. "Our goal is to work together with communities to make Baltimore a better place to live."

Terhes was joined for the kickoff by two GOP candidates for governor, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, and the party's 1994 nominee, Ellen R. Sauerbrey. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of the 1st District also was on hand.

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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