A wish list of options for city's next mayor

Baltimore: Proposed master plan gives plenty of grist for talk but leaves action to new elected officials.

April 24, 1999

BALTIMORE'S new master plan is a strange document. Published in the waning days of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 12-year administration, the 228-page draft report is chock-full of information -- words, pictures and graphs -- about all aspects of city life. It has plenty of recommendations as well. But in the end, no real plan emerges, only a wish list of options.

This is not entirely bad. A more definitive action plan at this late stage of the Schmoke administration would probably only be junked by the next mayor, whereas the "PlanBaltimore!" draft now can serve as comprehensive background on the city's challenges and possible ways to deal with them.

That's why all Baltimoreans interested in their hometown and concerned with its future should make an effort to read it. "PlanBaltimore!" ought to be the starting point for a community debate about policy options. All candidates in the upcoming municipal elections should give voters their detailed proposals for resolving the problems identified in the planning document.

This is particularly necessary of the mayoral candidates. Of the city campaigns in recent history, this is the oddest. Because of uncertainty about the intentions of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, the mayoral contest is still in the formative stages. This has had an effect on the races for the 18 City Council seats, the legislative body's presidency and comptroller. Almost everyone seems to be waiting -- less than five months before the primary.

The likely result will be a compressed period of campaigning. Unless citizens demand a focused discussion of issues, the primary nominations are in danger of becoming mere beauty contests.

The reason voters must insist that the mayoral candidates in particular outline a clear policy agenda for Baltimore is compelling: Under a little-noticed change in the City Charter, all planning commission memberships will expire when Mr. Schmoke leaves office. Thus, the next mayor will have an unprecedented opportunity to either exercise dynamic leadership by nominating thoughtful individuals with an interest in planning -- or to let things slide to the detriment of the city.

Like the master plan Baltimore County released early this year, the city's document is more than a conventional blueprint for physical planning. In addition to land use and building, it contains recommendations concerning law enforcement, schools, economy, culture, environment, public facilities and transportation.

Those are the very areas candidates should address.

Having lost one-third of its population since 1950, Baltimore faces an uncertain future. So many people still vote with their feet that the city has a net loss of 1,000 residents a month, causing jobs and businesses to disappear. This will continue unless the next mayor and City Council develop a strategy to stop the hemorrhage. With "PlanBaltimore!" as a guide, voters must demand a realistic blueprint to reverse the city's fortunes.

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