Transition starts today for new administration

Mayoral candidates: Baltimore's next leader must waste no time in beginning to shape his agenda.

September 15, 1999

VOTERS' overwhelming demand for change requires that preparations for the new administration begin today.

Democratic nominee Martin O'Malley promised bold steps to fight crime and turn the city around. Voters responded. Now, he must begin to spell out specific action plans.

Republican nominee David Tufaro focused on the physical revitalization of the city. Now, he too must show voters how he proposes to accomplish that.

The next mayor will bring in fresh faces, new ideas and his own style. A new City Council president and several untested council members will join him. This ferment is good.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 12-year administration, which officially ends Dec. 8, was remarkably devoid of personnel changes. Department heads stayed on; there were no sweeping Cabinet reshuffles. That's why needed change will now come to City Hall with ferocity.

If history is a guide, the Democratic mayoral nominee -- in a city where nearly 90 percent of registered voters are Democrats and party allegiance remains strong -- is likely to be the next mayor. The candidate in whom voters put their trust on Nov. 2, though, ought to be someone who understands the need to begin immediately to develop agendas and to consider appointments.

Annapolis

The 2000 General Assembly session will begin little more than a month after the inauguration. Baltimore has become so dependent on state funds in recent years that the new chief executive must develop a cohesive agenda and aggressively make his policies and budget priorities known in Annapolis.

The best way to achieve those ends is for the next mayor to begin weekly meetings with key players -- from Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to legislative leaders from the Baltimore area and beyond. This is the method William Donald Schaefer used to great advantage after his first mayoral nomination in 1971.

In contrast, Mr. Schmoke never paid sufficient attention to decision-makers or the governmental process in Annapolis. His legislative agendas were puny and lacked focus.

And while Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Montgomery's Douglas M. Duncan and Prince George's Wayne K. Curry took time to testify before committees and schmooze with legislators, Mr. Schmoke had woefully little presence in Maryland's capital.

That was a big mistake that the next mayor cannot afford to repeat. Critical decisions concerning Baltimore's future will be made in Annapolis during the new mayor's term. Paramount among them is legislative redistricting that, considering the city's unremitting population loss, threatens to erode Baltimore's influence further.

From the very beginning of his term, the new mayor must insert himself as a skillful player in State House negotiations that will have crucial political and economic consequences for the city.

Regional leadership

Despite its decline in recent decades, Baltimore is still Maryland's biggest city and the state's nerve center. The city's dominance in the metropolitan area is unquestioned. However, as a result of population shifts and political changes, Baltimore's relations with the increasingly important suburban counties are often difficult.

That's why the next mayor should quickly formulate a clear and realistic regional agenda. That kind of activism will best enable him to build bridges to the surrounding counties and identify common ground where the city can forge alliances in the region and with Montgomery and Prince George's counties in the Washington area. Despite old conflicts and rivalries, the next mayor must concentrate on building pragmatic coalitions of mutual interest.

Washington

The next mayor similarly must quickly forge an identity in Washington, another important source of funds for Baltimore.

A close working relationship with Maryland's congressional delegation is a must. And while the proximity of presidential elections may complicate creating a long-term strategy with such important federal bureaucracies as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the new mayor must exploit the goodwill Mr. Schmoke has established there.

Personnel

Looking at possible Cabinet appointments will consume much of the next mayor's time between now and inauguration. He has to assemble a personal staff and decide on a workable administrative structure.

He cannot afford to postpone other personnel decisions. Under a little-noticed provision in the City Charter, the terms of most mayoral appointees to boards and commissions are set to expire in December. Vacancies on the planning commission and zoning board are particularly crucial and must be filled without delay.

All these appointments -- from Cabinet and staff positions to boards and commissions -- are important. Moreover, they will give Baltimoreans the first real inkling about whether their new mayor is assertive and fully in command or beholden to special interests and behind-the-scenes manipulators.

Exercising power

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