Democratic candidates for mayor put their key ideas forward

September 08, 1999

THESE are edited excerpts of responses by some Democratic candidates for mayor of Baltimore to a Sun questionnaire. Additional Democratic responses will be published tomorrow. Republican candidate responses will run on Friday.

Martin O'Malley

On mayoral style: I will be an activist mayor, committed to returning urgency and accountability to the work of city government. I will look to other cities for policies that work, and reach out to innovators in our community to address problems affecting the livability of our city.

I intend to pay close attention to the less glamorous but basic responsibilities of city government. Public safety, sanitation, road repairs and responsiveness to citizen inquiries may not be the subject of many great national policy debates, but attention to detail is what will make Baltimore a great city in which to live, earn a living and raise a family.

Michael White in Cleveland and Ed Rendell in Philadelphia would serve as two role models. Both have led their cities from bankruptcy to renewed prosperity by remaining optimistic about the future, while being realistic about the constraints of running a city in the 1990s.

Also, I want to return three words made famous by another role model, William Donald Schaefer, to city government: "Do it now." A successful mayor of any large city must be a manager, a salesman, a cheerleader and an enforcer. As mayor, I will manage using two guiding principals, which I will also use to market the city: 1) I am accountable to the voters, and every city employee is accountable to me. 2) The work of city government is urgent.

On privatization: I do not, under most circumstances, favor privatization. In most cases, it is simply trying to achieve efficiency by threat. In Indianapolis, which is generally seen as the model for government privatization, government employees' unions won back 90 percent of the contracts that were placed open for bidding.

The new contracts did achieve some efficiencies and increases in productivity over the contracts they replaced. But Mr. Rendell achieved even more sweeping results in Philadelphia with wholesale renegotiation of benefits and work rules by working cooperatively with public service employee unions. City workers who provide municipal services often can be the best source of ideas for increasing efficiency. But someone has to ask them.

On criticism in Annapolis of Baltimore's use of state money: It is fair for state officials to criticize Baltimore for being inefficient in its use of state money and unwilling to be held accountable because, unfortunately, it is true. Time after time -- in our schools, in our courts, in our correctional system and other areas -- the failures of our city's leaders have led to takeovers by the state and by the courts.

Most of these failures, and the city's shaky relationship with Annapolis, can be traced to the fact that agency heads and, ultimately, the mayor have failed to learn from past mistakes, have dug in in the face of criticism rather than seeking help and advice, and have refused to benefit from the experiences of other cities, where effective reforms have prevented the embarrassments Baltimore has suffered in recent years. I will prevent future problems by working upfront with Annapolis, and by keeping an open mind, by keeping an open door and by keeping my word.

On regional cooperation, tax-base sharing and a commuter tax: I believe that regional cooperation must, ultimately, provide many of the solutions to the ills of our city, and as mayor I will work toward this goal. But Baltimore's current condition effectively prohibits any significant increase in regional cooperation.

Leaders of surrounding counties understand that if Baltimore sinks, everyone in Maryland will pay the price. But we must get our own house in order before it is politically possible for elected officials in other jurisdictions to support such reforms as regional tax-base sharing, regional housing policies and regional land-use and growth management policies.

While I oppose a commuter tax because it would simply drive more jobs out of Baltimore, I support statewide legislation that would direct a percentage of income tax to the jurisdiction in which it is earned. But as long as this is seen as a move intended to put more money in Baltimore's coffers, and legislators in Annapolis do not believe that the money would be well spent, this legislation will not pass. As mayor, I will make it a priority to restore the trust necessary to seek regional solutions to boost Baltimore's fortunes.

Richard Riha

On mayoral style: I will put the people first. I will promote open communication. I will have an open door policy so that people can meet with me directly. I will encourage community involvement. I will visit communities.

We must focus on communities' priorities and work with them for improvement. First, we must make the city inviting by lowering the crime rate, providing quality education, working along with businesses to create more jobs, and working with federal and state governments to seek sources for assistance.

On privatization: I'm opposed to this because it leads to self-interest groups whose main concern is profit, not what is best for the citizens.

On regional cooperation and tax-base sharing: I favor tax-base sharing.

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