Finally . . . THANKS TO neighborhood groups and to...

NOTES AND COMMENTS

August 15, 1999

Finally . . .

THANKS TO neighborhood groups and to WBAL-TV, the citizens of Baltimore will have an opportunity this month to see and hear the views of candidates with a realistic shot at becoming Baltimore's next mayor.

No offense is directed at those long-shot candidates who entered the race to press a point or to live out a dream. But the presence of more than 20 contenders would make it impossible to get a focused view of the leaders' views. The field has had a needed winnowing.

Former Councilman Carl Stokes, Councilman Martin J. O'Malley and Council President Lawrence A. Bell III will go head-to-head on Aug. 30.

Based on a recent poll, WBAL-TV (Channel 11) has satisfied itself that these three contenders alone should be invited. When a field of seeming thousands piles onto the stage -- as it has been doing at forums across the city -- the proceedings devolve into Towers of Babel.

Former congressman, NAACP president and TV talk show host Kweisi Mfume will be the moderator. Candidates should have their best opportunity to show how they could lead Baltimore into the next century. Care must now be given to finding the best format, one in which the candidates can challenge each other as well as make their own cases.

Thanks is owed to a number of groups that have worked with Channel 11 to make this debate -- the first of at least two such planned events -- a possibility. They include the League of Women Voters, the Neighborhood Congress, WJHU-FM and the Citizens Planning and Housing Association.

Each of these entities has been hard at work to give voters the best possible opportunity to evaluate the contenders.

Lesson from the drought

IF THE perennials could speak to the annuals, they would be dreading late summer as a time of stress and abandonment. Heat descends. Rain comes grudgingly. Caregivers turn away.

Yet suddenly, relief for both springs from the least likely source: a dreadful drought.

Before watering restrictions, even the most resilient plants often slumped and sagged, begging to be rescued by the profligate sprinkler: Half of the water hit the concrete walkway to tantalize the flowers and shame the gardener.

Now, though, twice-daily waterings are the norm and there is no cheating! Encouraged to conserve, the homeowner emerges each morning with brown rinse water from the coffee urn. Heedlessly sent down the drain in times of plenty -- even as the flowers cried out for moisture -- he now provides a dousing to about a third of his modest plot.

Later, a bucketful of soapy water reclaimed from morning showers brings relief to the rest. Pots soaking after dinner may produce a late-evening cocktail. Plants don't worry about caffeine apparently and the soap may be a defense against some pests.

What gratitude is shown! Multiple bud bursts erupt among the geraniums. A burgundy green and gold coleus waves like a proud flag. The flocked leaves of a dusty miller grow nearly luminous and a row of impatiens prepares for a late run.

Less is truly more.

Tradition lives

FRIENDS of the Flower Mart -- who are legion -- are relieved that its announced probable death was probably premature, and that Baltimore's spring street festival will see the next millennium.

News from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the Women's Civic League that the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association will sponsor the revival is reassuring. The league has run 82 of these annual events at Mount Vernon Place, but is running out of members with time and energy to make it happen.

So much tradition -- garden clubs, lemon sticks, crab cakes, dixieland bands -- is involved that new sponsorship is not guaranteed success. There must be tradition, mixed with sufficient innovation, to reflect changing tastes and meaning for the next century.

The exercise may prove a boon for the neighborhood association, an activity to bring it together in pooling resources. This will work best if the association is successful in enlisting the enthusiastic participation of cultural institutions that abound in its midst.

This sounds splendid, but is it really a sound idea? We will know on May 17 or, in the event of rain, May 18, 2000.

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