Recalling past keys to the city

Baltimore Glimpses

January 19, 1999|By Gil Sandler

BALTIMORE CITY is in the dizzying whirl of its mayor-go-round, a time to select a new mayor and reflect on the tenures of those who have come and gone. A place to start is with Mayor Howard W. Jackson's first term (1923 to 1927).

That first term was marked by fractious relations with the press in general and citizen activist Marie Bauernschmidt in particular. She accused the mayor of being an alcoholic and insisted he resign. He did not resign, and did not run for re-election -- but he came back in 1931 and won a second term. (He remained in office until 1943.)

But before Jackson's return, Republican William F. Broening served his second term (1927 to 1931 -- his first term was 1919 to 1923). Broening drew bad cards. In October 1929, the nation was plunged into a deep recession and his administration was stuck providing relief for Baltimore's thousands of hungry, homeless and jobless -- all of this in the days before government took over such responsibilities.

Republican Theodore R. McKeldin was mayor from 1943 to 1947 and will be remembered for his evangelical oratory, for quoting generously from scripture (both testaments, of course) and for making of himself a man who would keep the peace during the tense days of school integration. When irate anti-integration interests asked him what he intended to do about the highly charged integration issue in Baltimore, he said (for posterity), "We are going to obey the law."

Cursing establishment

Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., known as "Old Tommy," served three terms (1947-1959). He was born in Little Italy and throughout his life lived in, and often governed from, the neighborhood. He brought big league baseball back to Baltimore and ran a racially changing city -- all the while cursing reporters, do-gooders and establishment patricians.

J. Harold Grady (1959 to 1962) became mayor, ultimately, on the "Three G's for Good Government" ticket: Grady for mayor, Phillip H. Goodman for president of the City Council, and R. Walter Graham for comptroller. They ran on a "throw the rascals out" platform. Mayor Grady, in his fourth year, to the surprise of no one who understood Baltimore City politics, was named a Supreme Bench judge, leaving Council President Goodman as mayor.

Goodman was mayor for too short a time to have created much of a record, but he set some other records. He was born in Poland, escaped with his family to the United States and learned to speak English. At City College, weighing 105 pounds and only 5-feet-1-inch tall, he became an Olympic-class wrestler. His carefully crafted bid to become a full-term mayor ended with his defeat by McKeldin, who formed a fusion ticket with a loser in the Democratic primary, Hyman A. Pressman, to seal the victory.

From 1963 to 1967 it was McKeldin, again, with Pressman as the city's comptroller.

Thomas J. D'Alesandro III ("Young Tommy"), was in office from 1967 to 1971 and had the bad luck to be mayor during the 1968 riots. The governor called out the National Guard to restore order. Afterward, Mr. D'Alesandro lost his zest for politics. He declined to run for a second term. That left the way open for William Donald Schaefer, the president of the City Council, to run for mayor.

Servant and showman

Mr. Schaefer was elected four times. He was one part public servant and one part showman, and the combination created a mayor who both governed and entertained. Among his many monuments is the National Aquarium, referred to by his adversaries as "the mayor's fish tank." In 1986 he was elected governor, and when he moved to Annapolis, Clarence H. "Du" Burns, council president, moved into the mayor's office.

Mayor Burns will go down in history as the city's first black mayor. He made it to the top by starting at the bottom -- as a locker room attendant in a city high school. He served out Mr. Schaefer's term and when he ran for election in 1987 he pitted his street-smarts against the Ivy League credentials of a Yale lawyer named Kurt L. Schmoke. The electorate bought the Ivy Leaguer.

Each one of these Baltimore ex-mayors can be found to have said that he enjoyed his service as mayor of Baltimore. Those were the days.

Gil Sandler writes from and about Baltimore.

Pub Date: 1/19/99

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