Public policy for all, not one

It's not wise to believe that one person is going to be the savior of Baltimore, whether that person is Mr. Mfume or someone else.

January 28, 1999|By Kay Dellinger

HOW DID Kweisi Mfume become the savior of Baltimore?

Though the former congressman and current president of the NAACP has repeatedly said he will not run for mayor of Baltimore this year, some distinguished people are paving the way for an Mfume candidacy.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings and some other lawmakers plan to change Baltimore's residency requirement for political office holders hoping that will help persuade Mr. Mfume, a Catonsville resident, to run. That is not the way public policy is supposed to be made.

For a major city like Baltimore, it is very reasonable to have a one-year residency requirement for the top elected office. It is also reasonable because of the city's form of government, which gives the power to run the city and its departments to the mayor; the City Council has limited power.

Anyone who wants to run for mayor should live in the city for at least a year -- preferably much longer -- to become familiar with Baltimore and its problems.

Baltimore's schools are among the worst in the country. The murder rate is a national disgrace and the current police chief is rotating experienced detectives out of the homicide unit in defiance of all rationality.

A list of ills

The housing department has suffered from years of mismanagement. And Baltimore leads the country in the number of syphilis and gonorrhea cases -- an epidemic attributed to the prevalance of selling sex for drugs. Meanwhile, the exodus of residents -- mostly to the surrounding counties -- continues.

In any case, it's not wise to believe that one person is going to be the savior of Baltimore, whether that person is Mr. Mfume or someone else. Twelve years ago, people thought that Kurt Schmoke was going to be a great mayor. Was he? See the previous paragraphs.

Politics aside, public policy is supposed to be made for the benefit of the public, not for one person. If Mr. Mfume wants to run for mayor, he can -- just not this time. He can move back to Baltimore at least one year before the next mayoral election and run for office like all other candidates.

The Blount case

It's interesting that the Mfume case comes on the heels of the debacle surrounding state Sen. Clarence W. Blount, who has represented a city district for years, even though he resides in Pikesville.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last fall that Mr. Blount's name could stay on the ballot because he didn't have to maintain his primary residence in the city. What a blow to justice.

Most people understand that residency requirements are important. A candidate needs to have knowledge of, and be committed to, the people and issues of a given locale. A person should have to live in a district or a city for a considerable length of time to become an elected representative of that jurisdiction.

It's to be hoped that Mr. Mfume believes that. He should tell Mr. Rawlings and other like-minded lawmakers that the residency requirement for mayor should not be changed and that he will not run if it is changed.

With all of the problems that Baltimore has, these legislators should be trying to find constructive solutions to some of these problems, not creating more problems.

There is no savior of Baltimore. All of the people together have to create the solutions.

Kay Dellinger is a free-lance writer and an unpaid organizer for the Coalition Against Gambling Expansion in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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