As he gets ready to step down Tuesday after 12 years as Baltimore's mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke contends that his legacy may best be measured by driving along Pratt Street.
Start on the west side, at the refurbished and rejuvenated B&O Railroad Museum, and drive east, past the burgeoning University of Maryland, Baltimore -- a job generator that has swelled into a city within a city.
A stone's throw to the right, a new neighborhood is being built where Schmoke demolished the Lexington Terrace high-rise housing projects. And a half-mile north, the former Murphy Homes high-rise public housing project lies in ruins, the land being prepared for a new neighborhood.
Roll into the Inner Harbor, and motorists can see the renovated Power Plant with its ESPN Zone, Barnes & Noble bookstore and Hard Rock Cafe.
Schmoke's proudest accomplishment is Pleasant View Gardens, just east of downtown, another high-rise public housing complex transformed into a middle-income neighborhood.
Getting to Pleasant View requires driving past the new Port Discovery children's museum, another Schmoke trophy.
"What I tried to do was keep the glittering things shining and address the rot under the glitter," Schmoke said. "We have an awful lot of strengths, but I get the sense that peo ple aren't focusing on the strengths of this community."
As he leaves the job he has held longer than any in his life, the former Rhodes scholar and Baltimore's first elected African-American mayor acknowledges the chronic urban woes that continue to trouble Baltimore.
"There have been many positive changes" in the Pratt Street corridor, Schmoke said. "But you can go 10 blocks in any direction and see the worst in urban America."
During his final press conference two weeks ago, Schmoke faced the routine questions about why his Police Department couldn't halt the rising number of shootings and murders in the city during an unusually bloody October.
Despite making historic marks in public housing, keeping the city fiscally sound and continuing the Inner Harbor surge, his critics say Schmoke failed to significantly improve three quality-of-life issues cities are judged on: crime, schools and taxes.
The departing mayor points to the end of federal revenue-sharing for city governments and the explosion of crack cocaine as hurdles that hampered his ability to eradicate the problems that his 16-year predecessor -- William Donald Schaefer -- also failed to solve: flight of middle-class residents, loss of jobs and growing poverty.
"There are a lot of things in which I would like to set the clock backward and do something else," Schmoke said. "But you don't get the chance."
Martin O'Malley, who takes the oath of office Tuesday as Baltimore's 47th mayor, will face many of the urban problems that Schmoke spent over a decade trying to solve.
The city appears to be heading toward its 10th straight year with more than 300 homicides, making it one of the deadliest cities in the nation. While showing slight improvement in test scores, the Baltimore school district retains the label of Maryland's worst.
And despite Schmoke's efforts to reduce the property tax rate, Baltimore homeowners pay twice as much as residents in any other Maryland jurisdiction.
Schmoke's critics contend that he was too nice, lacking the assertiveness big-city mayors need to get the job done. Schmoke, with his laid-back style, followed the dynamic, "do-it-now" steamrolling of the Schaefer administration.
"He was an honest and decent man," Douglas Munro, president of the conservative Calvert Institute for Policy Research, said of Schmoke. "But he was a thinker in a doer's job."
His initial Cabinet picks faltered, leaving public works chief George G. Balog as the only survivor. Relations with the business community -- which Schaefer capitalized on to maximize the city's growth -- practically vanished under the shy, unassuming Schmoke.
The critics also blame Schmoke for allowing dynamic Cabinet underlings such as city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III and Balog to create fiefdoms, bending the rules to build power -- accusations both men deny.
Schmoke may have gained national attention for his 1988 call to treat drug addiction as a medical, rather than criminal, problem, but he leaves O'Malley a city with an estimated 60,000 addicts. Despite his talk of treating addicts, Schmoke was slow to back it up with dollars -- a point that critics maintain showed that he was slow to follow through.
"There were unrealistic expectations placed on Mayor Schmoke," said the Rev. Douglas Miles, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the city's largest group of ministers. "But his style of leadership was the greatest disappointment. He was not a hands-on manager, a day-to-day mayor, or a cheerleader for the city. That was just not him."
Voters' support strong