Our choices to revive ailing City Council

September 01, 1999

IF BALTIMOREANS want a neighborhood-by-neighborhood renaissance and a smooth-running city government, they must retool and rebuild the 18-member City Council. They must demand representatives with broader vision, impatient energy and disciplined professionalism.

Councils of the past have provided a vibrant forum for discussion of critical community concerns, ranging from civil rights and urban renewal to rat eradication, bulk trash removal and the common pothole. Today's issues are no less urgent.

Recently, though, the council has been undistinguished, serving as a comfortable niche for too many men and women of little drive -- a place to collect the $37,000-a-year salary, to rack up retirement benefits -- to safely graze, as one former veteran of the body put it.

The city cannot afford to have a council of timeservers.

In the past, some of Baltimore's most successful public and private figures have come from the council. Honored graduates include four mayors -- William Donald Schaefer, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, Philip H. Goodman and Clarence H. "Du" Burns; a governor (Mr. Schaefer); a U.S. senator (Barbara A. Mikulski); and a congressman (Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP's president).

It has also produced judges, able state legislators and several distinguished businessmen -- from Henry G. Parks, the late sausage baron, to Peter G. Angelos, the lawyer and Orioles principal owner.

Voters should remember that such talent exists among the field of candidates running for council this year as well. The Sun finds a number of contenders with potential for growth and immediate contribution to the public discourse.

1st District

Democratic incumbents LOIS GAREY and JOHN L. CAIN have served this geographically vast and diverse district well. They have taken unpopular stands on difficult issues and deserve renomination.

The third incumbent, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., tends to act on emotion, rather than reason. He is totally against tax abatements for builders, a shortsighted stand that would deprive the city of an important economic development tool. Similarly, he opposed a plan to revitalize the west side of downtown because he thought tax money should not be spent for that purpose. He is wrong.

JAMES "WARD" MORROW, an assistant state's attorney and vice president of the South East Community Organization, is a more enlightened choice. His expertise and interest in housing and safety issues would be a tremendous plus on the council. He has our support.

The Democratic nominees will face a full slate of GOP candidates in November.

2nd District

Incumbent Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch has been a disappointment because of her inattention to council business. From an array of attractive Democratic challengers, we recommend ANDRE R. WEITZMAN, the consumer lawyer who is fighting for hapless homebuyers taken advantage of by real estate speculators in the Patterson Park neighborhood.

Mr. Weitzman lives in affluent Guilford but works with those who need a champion. The edge of anger he would bring to council affairs promises to make him a positive and productive irritant.

Second District Democrats should also nominate MARK WASHINGTON, a thoughtful and passionate opponent of old-school political thinking. He offers the sort of fresh ideas the council needs: He wants to raise the age at which a student could make the "life-threatening" decision to leave school from 16 to 18 and to impose a surcharge on the sale of guns and ammunition in an effort to limit availability.

Incumbent Councilman BERNARD C. "JACK" YOUNG deserves renomination. He has given tireless attention to neighborhood concerns.

3rd District

This changing northeast area, still dominated by the Curran family political organization, has produced a number of promising candidates. We recommend LINDA CUNNINGHAM JANEY, whose service on the city school board is just one of her many contributions.

Ms. Janey is a lawyer and planner who works for the Maryland Office of Planning. Her informed and thoughtful approach is sorely needed as the council grapples with ways to reshape a city built for nearly a million people to address the needs of its much-declined population. Alarming expanses of vacant rowhouses -- malignant anchors in struggling neighborhoods -- must be dealt with in orderly fashion. A Councilwoman Janey could help.

The Sun also endorses political newcomer KENNETH N. HARRIS SR., president of the Glen Oaks Improvement Association, who has the potential to grow and prosper in politics.

The third nod goes to ROBERT W. "BOBBY" CURRAN, an incumbent whose organization has been astute enough to recruit such newcomers as Mr. Harris and Sylvia Williams, a veteran community worker. Mr. Curran is a man of valuable connections whose success at empowering his neighborhood has translated into blocking commercial developments.

4th District

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