Tough choices, myriad issues

September 01, 1999

WITH 25 individuals who would be mayor and no incumbent for the first time in decades, Baltimore's voters face tough choices in the Sept. 14 primary -- and again in the November general election.

In this section, the staff of The Sun's editorial page has pulled together some of what is known about the candidates for mayor and other city offices, including our assessment of who would best serve city citizens.

Over the past months on our pages, we have also sought to highlight for our readers the problems facing the city -- as well as to propose solutions.

Excerpts of a few editorials highlighting these critical issues follow:

Neighborhoods: (March 21) Baltimore is on the verge of a major real estate takeoff. Consider:

Construction in the empty Key Highway area of the Inner Harbor is turning vacant land into townhouses. Developers are studying a nearby parcel for a luxury hotel and the HarborView condominium complex is exploring expansion.

A $100 million capital commitment by NationsBank, bolstered by the Weinberg Foundation's $71 million redevelopment proposal, shows the long-awaited renewal of the Howard Street corridor no longer is a pipe dream.

Developers are showing serious interest in two vacant waterfront parcels in Fells Point that total nearly 40 acres.

This promising activity contrasts starkly with what's going on in many traditional neighborhoods. Each month, about 1,000 people move out of the city, leaving behind deteriorating communities and vacant houses that become magnets for vandals.

The next mayor and City Council must act to stop this hemorrhage. Unless the exodus of middle-class residents is reversed, Baltimore will lose its tax base and viability.

Among the key questions is the role government should play. Since the 1960s, urban renewal here and elsewhere in the United States has been driven by government programs. Preference has been given to big construction projects instead of trying to repair and strengthen the fabric of existing communities.

City Hall still has enormous powers. But much of the successful action has moved to the private sector, due to the Community Reinvestment Act's requirement that financial institutions provide loans in underserved communities.

Reducing the homicide rate: (Feb. 14) The contrast is astonishing. Last year, Boston (population 558,000) recorded 35 homicides; Baltimore (population 675,000) had 314. Even New York, with 10 times more people, had just 629 homicides.

Much of the blame for Baltimore's inability to address its prolonged murder crisis lies in the breakdown of the normal defenses put into place to protect a city's residents: police, prosecutors, courts and corrections institutions. As violence has numbed the public to fatalism, those agencies have been overrun by an avalanche of mundane, nonviolent cases. The system is so swamped it has lost its ability to treat killings as the No. 1 priority.

The result is disastrous: Killers are getting away with murder. This must end.

Drug treatment: (July 11) It is not enough that Baltimore, with an estimated 60,000 heroin and cocaine addicts, ranks among national leaders in public spending for drug treatment. The $33 million-a-year budget must produce tangible results aimed at reducing overall crime and the more than 75 percent of homicides linked to drugs.

Accountability, more focused policies and greater attention to cost-effectiveness are required.

Looming financial crisis: (May 29) The city's tax base is so stagnant budget chief Edward J. Gallagher predicts a cumulative $153.5 million shortfall over the next four years.

This dire forecast isn't a surprise. Baltimore's weakening economic condition has been evident for years. Yet little has been done to turn the situation around.

A 1992 report recommended streamlining the bloated municipal government into more efficient and less costly bureaucracies. After an initial pledge to implement reforms, the report was ignored.

As a result, the city continues to function haphazardly.

Public housing: (July 3) Revamping the housing authority and building more manageable public housing communities are among the main achievements of the Schmoke administration. All mayoral candidates should spell out what they would do to continue the momentum.

Pub Date: 09/01/99

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