5-year mayoral term possible

Move to change date of election could give longer spell in office

August 26, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's mayoral race, already full of unusual twists and turns, has yet another wrinkle: The next mayor could serve a five-year term, instead of the regular four.

At issue is a ballot question, asking voters to change city elections to coincide with the presidential election, which is held the year after Baltimore's municipal elections. If approved, the proposed charter amendment would change the next city election from 2003 to 2004, giving the mayor and other city elected officials an extra year in office.

The change would save the city as much as $4 million in election costs, which is the primary reason for the proposed amendment.

The question won't appear on the ballot until the November general election, but some are taking the issue as a bittersweet pill in a mayor's race where endorsements come with lukewarm enthusiasm.

"It means an extra year of either good government or bad government, depending on who is elected," said state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "If the wrong person is elected, it just prolongs the agony."

The mayor's race is packed with 22 contenders, but many of the candidates have been dogged by questions of personal and political integrity. Political, business and community leaders have viewed this year's election as a turning point in Baltimore history -- one that could push the city into the forefront of American cities or downward another tier.

City Councilman Robert W. Curran, a 3rd District Democrat, proposed the charter change as a cost-saving measure for the city.

"We don't have to have a [separate] mayoral election," Curran said. "By streamlining the election process, it really is the first step in political reform."

Curran proposed the amendment last fall, but the bill was defeated in December in an 8-6 vote.

Curran introduced the bill again in the spring after Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller proposed state legislation to hold city elections -- now held in odd-numbered years-- at the same time as state elections, even-numbered years.

Some city and state officials objected to the legislation, criticizing Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, for meddling in Baltimore affairs. Miller's bill died, but the City Council passed Curran's proposal.

A separate city election allows state lawmakers to run for such positions as mayor or City Council president without losing a seat in the General Assembly. If the city and state elections were held at the same time, candidates could seek only a state or city post.

Miller said the bill had little to do with politics. He said he was looking to save taxpayers money when Baltimore continues to seek more state funds to finance its ailing economy.

With a separate city race, Baltimore holds three consecutive elections for city, state and presidential races. The state race comes first in even-numbered years, followed the next year by the city election, and in the third year by the presidential race.

Lucille Gorham, executive director of the Middle East Organization, an East Baltimore resident group, said she understands the benefits of the proposed change. But she said she is concerned that if the presidential and mayoral elections are held together, people might have difficulty focusing on both races.

"For people who don't vote all the time, it might entice them to vote," Gorham said. "I can see some value in it, but I can see some confusion and misunderstanding" about all of the candidates and their platforms.

Barbara E. Jackson, the city's elections director, said reducing the number of elections from three to two would help the election board operate more efficiently.

"It would help in a lot of areas," Jackson said. For example, "the state is in the process of doing a complete survey of all the polling locations to make sure they're accessible to the disabled. We can't do that right now because we're in the middle of an election.

"The state is implementing a statewide voter registration program. We can't do that until after the three elections are over."

But Jackson said her office will continue to perform, with or without the change.

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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