Streamlining elections for mayor and council Time change: It makes sense -- and saves money -- to have balloting coincide with presidential races.

November 30, 1998

BALTIMORE'S city elections have been held in off years since a charter review commission recommended 100 years ago that they be conducted "at a different time from the State and Federal elections, in order to separate municipal affairs from the influence of the political issues which are necessarily involved in State and Federal elections."

Much has changed since those times. The mayor's powers have been enhanced, for example, and a two-chamber City Council has been replaced by a single legislative body. Yet these elections in odd-numbered years continue -- at an additional $4 million cost.

The City Council is considering a charter amendment introduced by Councilman Robert Curran that would change all this.

If it passes, next year's election for mayor and City Council would give the winners a one-time, five-year term so that Baltimore could shift its municipal election to coincide with presidential races from 2004 onward.

"This is something that should have been addressed a long, long time ago," said Mr. Curran, a 3rd District Democrat.

The fire wall between municipal politics and state and federal issues was among the well-meaning governing principles proposed by the 1898 charter panel. The commission also advocated appointing experts in all departments where professional knowledge and skill were required and establishing bidding practices that continue to this day.

(Another recommendation was that Republicans be granted representation in all departments "so that an opportunity might be given to the minority to scrutinize the actions of the party in power.")

Holding municipal elections at the same time as presidential balloting could enhance voter turnout, which has often been disappointing. And city elected officials could still seek state offices, and vice versa, without jeopardizing their positions if they lose.

Cost savings alone would not justify changing Baltimore's election cycle. But increasing political activism in the city holds the promise of attracting better candidates. That is a worthy goal and reason enough to discontinue off-year elections.

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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