Reflections on raising leaders

September 23, 1999

IN THE wake of the recent mayoral campaign, which saw Baltimore's predominantly African-American electorate propel white candidate Martin O'Malley to an overwhelming victory over two black candidates, many were left wondering if there's a leadership vacuum in the city's black community.

After all, when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke took office nearly 12 years ago, he was a potent symbol of black empowerment. Has the community given up on that idea?

Mr. O'Malley can proudly point to a biracial coalition that helped elect him. But others wonder if the defeat of mayoral candidates Lawrence Bell and Carl Stokes -- who were encumbered by personal troubles -- isn't a dire sign of trouble in the ranks of black political leaders.

We asked some civic, political and business leaders to offer suggestions on ways to groom more people for leadership roles and to reflect on matters of race and politics:

Mary Pat Clarke, a former Baltimore City Council president and Bell supporter, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1995.

Where will the next generation [of black political leaders] come from? From the ashes of Lawrence Bell . . . but being African-American, they still have to be accepted by the power structure and that [day is] not here yet.

There are more kids like Lawrence who will come forward. Perhaps the time will be better for them.

Carl Stokes is a former city councilman and was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for mayor this year.

I don't think it has to be a "now what?" situation. There are African-Americans currently in leadership -- Sheila Dixon will be the next City Council president, Joan Pratt was re-elected comptroller. Helen Holton and Stephanie Rawlings were re-elected to the City Council in the Fifth District.

But there definitely should have been some passing of the baton [from the Schmoke administration], a grooming of a new group of leaders.

It was interesting that [Mr. Schmoke] did not get very involved in this campaign, but neither did other African-American leaders -- people who got so much support to get where they are. Most notably, Congressman Elijah Cummings did not step up. So it's not just the next generation, we need to look to [for leadership] but this generation, too.

Stuart O. Simms, state secretary of public safety and correctional services, is a former Baltimore state's attorney.

I don't think there's any more of a [political] vacuum in Baltimore's African-American community than there is in the community in general. There are people who may develop from the City Council or state legislature and others who will develop from private enterprise.

But no matter what their background, talented people need to indicate the positive value of public service so others will consider it. We need to keep the notion of public service alive.

Kurt L. Schmoke is mayor of Baltimore.

I endorsed Sheila Dixon in the council president's race and she won. Just look at the number of young black elected officials in the city, the number of young black lawyers that I [hired] when I was [Baltimore's] state's attorney.

Everyone on the council that wanted to get re-elected was re-elected -- that's the next generation of black leadership in the city.

Mark L. Washington, a community-relations liaison at Hamilton Middle School, failed this year in his second bid for a Second District City Council seat.

I think there are a number of capable African-Americans in Baltimore with the intelligence to lead, but campaigning is such a difficult process. It becomes a popularity contest and you have to sway voters who don't exactly turn out. That doesn't always lead to the best person winning.

The job [of mayor] is an awful task to handle with a limited salary. Professional African-Americans may not want to put themselves in that arena and deal with the criticism. It takes a brave individual to go there.

Johnny Clinton, who was a member the committee that attempted to draft Kweisi Mfume to run for mayor, is owner of the Park Heights Barber Shop and a former president of the Pimlico Merchants Association.

As I look over everything right now, I don't see any rising stars to take over leadership from people like Pete Rawlings. . . . The reason the [Democratic] field was so full this past [mayoral] election was no one was groomed to step in.

Everybody was ready to accept Martin O'Malley as the savior, but he's going to have to please a lot of people. If he meets the needs of the black community, he could be mayor for as long as he wants.

The Rev. Douglas Miles is president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and pastor of the Koinonia Baptist Churches.

A good place to begin to develop leadership, as always, is in the African-American church. . . . It is also incumbent upon the political clubs that are still in existence to rebuild precinct and neighborhood gatherings from which potential leaders can rise.

Raymond V. Haysbert, former chief executive officer of Parks Sausage Inc., was honorary chairman of Mr. Stokes' mayoral campaign.

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