Changing the rules to find Mayor Right

Mayoral race: Looser residency rule sends wrong message to candidates, citizens.

January 26, 1999

WANTING TO strengthen the field of candidates for mayor of Baltimore is understandable. But tinkering with the residency requirement for candidates, especially with the goal of attracting a particular one, isn't the way to go about it.

Yes, the city needs a mayor who can articulate a vision of what Baltimore ought to be. It needs a leader as well as a manager -- someone able to take charge and, among other things, stem the tide of residents leaving the city.

Living in the city speaks to commitment -- and a one-year requirement isn't all that long.

What does it say about a candidate's commitment if he or she establishes residency just in the nick of time -- and with legislative help -- to qualify for the ballot?

No one is likely to question the motives of Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, who is pushing for a state law to modify Baltimore's mayoral residency requirement. Mr. Rawlings has proved time and again his devotion to fighting for what is good for Baltimore in the state legislative arena.

The city, he says, is teetering. Its survival may depend on opening the field to a candidate (or, presumably, a group of candidates) not now eligible to run.

He's right that the September primary is critical to the city's future. He's wrong, though, in trying to influence its outcome this way.

It also is problematic to embark on a legislative course that undermines home rule by overturning an element of the city charter.

Recently, we've seen a weakening of the concept of residency as a prerequisite for holding elective office with a court decision -- that seemed to fly in the face of the facts -- allowing Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount to run for re-election in the 41st District.

Supporters of the current move to change Baltimore's mayoral residency requirement use similar logic: That extenuating circumstances -- in both cases the city's need for strong leadership -- should be considered when looking at the issue of residency.

That's simply not good public policy. It also suggests a high degree of disregard for the skills and talents that exist among people who qualify to run for mayor under existing residency requirements.

What does it say to the tens of thousands of people who've chosen to live in Baltimore, when -- eight months before an election -- hope seems to be abandoned that among them is someone able to provide Baltimore the leadership it needs?

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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