Cheapest guy in town for Baltimore mayor?

Salary: Better pay for top job was needed before anyone mentioned drafting a certain candidate.

April 21, 1999

WHAT IS A mayor worth? Detroit, a long-troubled city making a comeback, pays its chief executive $157,000 a year. Boston, with a population comparable to Baltimore's, last year increased its mayor's salary from $110,000 to $125,000. Milwaukee is about to raise annual compensation for its mayor from $115,000 to $119,429.

And Baltimore? It pays its chief executive $95,000.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke believed he was being civic-minded by repeatedly resisting a pay raise. With a spouse who is a physician, perhaps it wasn't a pressing concern. But his well-meaning stance artificially depressed the salary for a job that he certainly knows is extremely demanding.

Efforts are under way to increase the salary for Baltimore's mayor. It should have been done long ago, but the issue, resurrected on the eve of a city election, is now unavoidably becoming entangled with personalities and politics.

Some suggest that the salary be raised to $150,000 to entice NAACP President Kweisi Mfume into the mayor's race. City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III says whoever gets the job as mayor -- and he would like to -- should make do with a 10 percent raise above the current salary.

Another candidate, A. Robert Kaufman, says he would even lower the pay. Serving as mayor "should be an honor and privilege," Mr. Kaufman says, for which he would accept a Baltimore household's "median income plus 10 percent" -- about $35,000 a year.

Baltimore is a $2 billion-a-year municipal corporation with 16,000 employees. Yet the mayor's salary was $60,000 as recently as 1995. A panel studying elected officials' compensation then recommended it be raised to $100,000, but Mr. Schmoke balked, eventually accepting $95,000.

We now have a situation in which the mayor, with extraordinary powers and responsibilities, earns $95,000, while the relatively inconsequential City Council president and city comptroller both make $65,000. The 18 part-time members of the council, who have little power even collectively, each make $37,000 a year.

The lack of proportion makes no sense. A pay raise for mayor is justified to reflect the importance of the job and to put it in line with what mayors earn in comparatively sized cities.

The movement to draft Mr. Mfume, who makes $220,000 plus speaking fees for running the national civil-rights organization, is the spark that reignited the issue. But the paltry pay for the mayor of Baltimore should have been rectified long ago.

With change coming to City Hall, now is the time to do it.

Sizing up mayoral pay

City --------------- Mayor's salary ---------- Population

Baltimore ------ $95,000 ---------- ---------- 675,000

Boston ---------- $125,000 -------- ---------- 558,000

Detroit ----------- $157,000 -------- ---------- 1,000,000

Milwaukee ----- $115,000 -------- ---------- 590,000

Philadelphia -- $110,000 -------- ---------- 1,500,000

SOURCE: City governments

Pub Date: 4/21/99

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