Schmoke's projects blossom as 12-year tenure nears end

Mayor works on goals for city at busy pace

April 19, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

With eight months left in his tenure, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is tackling administrative goals at a feverish pace, apparently trying to broker for himself a top spot in the historical chain of Baltimore leaders.

The city's 46th mayor will likely be best remembered for his liberal stance on drugs and the removal of the city's four high-rise public housing projects. But in recent weeks, additional Schmoke seeds have begun to sprout. They include:

The renovation of downtown's west side. Over the next few weeks, the City Council is expected to approve a bill to condemn 127 properties over an 18-block stretch of downtown. That will trigger redevelopment and link the Inner Harbor, Charles Center and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The proposal for a new Baltimore Arena. Last week, Schmoke released a study calling for spending up to $200 million to demolish and replace the more-than-30-year-old arena, hoping to draw a professional sports team to town. On Thursday, Schmoke vowed not to support any package that would rely on mostly public funding, hoping to lure private owners and investors, similar to Washington's MCI Center.

Unveiling the city's comprehensive plan. This week, city planners are expected to release a draft of what Baltimore should become. Planners held dozens of meetings in the past year, asking residents for their comments on issues ranging from police to transportation. The document will be the city's first comprehensive plan since 1971.

Restructuring the city work force. In addition to calling for a reduction of 500 city positions through retirements and departure in his final budget, Schmoke has started an assessment of city services, which is expected to result in competitive bidding for public duties such as trash collection.

Since announcing in December that he will not seek a fourth four-year term as mayor, Schmoke has been free to carry out his duties without worry of voter or campaign supporter reprisals. Even some of the mayor's critics have noticed the latest developments.

"He seems to have been freed from the forces that he has had to cater to," said George A. Nilson, president of the Baltimore Homeowners' Coalition.

The 49-year-old former state's attorney has worn the political albatross of following legendary Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who was credited with rebuilding the city with the Inner Harbor renewal, attention to detail and unabashed boosterism. Schmoke's more laid-back style has earned him criticism for failing to solve problems such as violent crime, poor schools and high unemployment, and for inability to significantly slash property taxes.

Yet longtime aides watching his projects bloom before his departure attribute them to Schmoke's persistence, patience and marathon style of tackling government.

"Through his first two terms, he really was planting a lot of seeds," said former West Baltimore Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, who works in Schmoke's office. "He's the kind of person who takes the long view on problems."

While announcing that he would step down this year, Schmoke pledged not to be a lame duck mayor. The recent flurry of developments in the city should not be a surprise, he said.

"I kind of view this position very much like a trustee," Schmoke said. "You have to get things done now, but we have to prepare for the future.

"I'm real pleased that some of these plans have come," he added. "And if the next mayor wants to hit the ground running with some of these, it will give him a little bit of an advantage, I hope, as they go into the first year."

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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