Finally, mayor realizes he was miscast

December 05, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

KURT LIDELL Schmoke has finally come to my senses.

It was years ago that I wrote it. Why would any guy, I mused, who graduated from Harvard Law School -- considered the best in the free world -- want to be mayor? Schmoke's talents, I suggested, are more suited to the judicial branch of government, not the executive.

Two days ago, Schmoke announced he would not seek a fourth term as Baltimore's mayor. Since then, folks have said that while he's a nice guy and all, he wasn't a "cheerleader" for the city, that he had no enthusiasm for the job, that he is simply not mayoral timber.

There's no reason he should be. Schmoke is a judge at heart. Deep down inside him, there's a jurist of the caliber of an Earl Warren or a Thurgood Marshall struggling to get out. I only hope his tenure as mayor of Baltimore hasn't buried that jurist so deep he can never surface again.

Much like Charlton Heston playing the role of a Mexican in Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil," Schmoke was hopelessly miscast as the mayor. Why in heaven's name would he take the job anyway? He had to know that solving this city's ills would be like rolling a Sisyphean rock up a hill only to have it roll down again and again. He had to know he would be blamed for all the city's ills and get credit for none of its virtues. He must have had some inkling that he would be looked on as the city's Messiah and would be vilified as its Antichrist if he didn't deliver salvation.

In essence, Schmoke took on a lose-lose situation. It's a quirk we Americans have. We look on our leaders in the executive branch of government as emperors, kings or czars who can solve all our problems for us. It's not only the mayor we have unrealistic

expectations of. City schools chief Dr. Robert Booker is expected to wave a magic wand and make all the problems with Baltimore's public schools go away. He's supposed to go to all those schools that have no parent-teacher organizations and start them. He's supposed to work some kind of voodoo that will make all those parents who don't give a tinker's dam about their children's education somehow start caring. Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier, after only four years, is supposed to end racism in a department that's had it for decades.

"What do you think of the job Schmoke is doing as mayor?" That's a question I'm frequently asked at speaking engagements.

"Whatever criticisms you have of Schmoke," I've often answered, "he's clearly not in the job for the money. Not with what we're paying him. I think the guy actually likes being mayor of Baltimore."

But the job can wear a body down. That's something the folks who are considering running next year had best consider before tossing their hats into the ring. In fact, I wish the lot of them -- liberal Democrats all -- would consider not running and support a conservative Republican for Baltimore's next mayor.

Rudolph Giuliani has done wonders in New York City -- lowering the city's crime rate, imposing zero-tolerance measures and sending aggressive panhandlers packing (to cities like Baltimore, no doubt). Baltimore's problems may not be unsolvable. We may simply need another approach -- a conservative, Republican approach -- to solve them.

Take the issue of school vouchers. Liberal Democrats circle the wagons and pass the ammunition at the mere mention of school vouchers.

"Break out the shootin' irons, Ma! The conservatives is a-comin' They's talkin' 'bout them school vouchers agin!"

School vouchers will ruin public schools, liberals wail. They're unconstitutional. They won't work.

The folks at Baltimore's Calvert Institute think they will. Of course, the folks at the Calvert Institute are conservative, which means their views on school vouchers will be dismissed out of hand. But through their research on school vouchers, people at the Calvert Institute reached a conclusion that Schmoke never addressed during his tenure in office, but which the next mayor may have to.

Baltimore is losing population because residents no longer have faith in schools. Vouchers, the Calvert Institute contends, will give residents choice in education and might not only stabilize Baltimore's population, but actually bring some people back.

Schmoke was probably the most affable mayor Baltimore's ever had. But he's a liberal, for God's sake. The time for liberals to run large Northeastern cities is now past.

A conservative Republican for mayor in 1999, please.

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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