Miller's role in demise of city election measure

The Political Game

Timing: The Senate president wants Baltimore's mayoral primary in step with the rest of the state, but that may not be the best step for local politicians.

April 11, 2000|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

A BILL THAT would have changed the year of Baltimore's mayoral primary election has died an unceremonious death in the General Assembly, passing away quietly in a Senate committee.

Without it, Baltimore is left with a 14-month gap between the next mayoral primary and general elections -- for now, at least, scheduled for 2003 and 2004, respectively.

The little-noticed derailment apparently occurred at the behest of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat.

"Some time, some day soon, the Baltimore City Council will come to understand they're part of the state of Maryland," Miller said yesterday by way of explanation. "Let 'em think about it."

Mr. President -- he who calls this "a local issue" -- wants the mayoral election to occur at the same time as the elections for governor and legislature, beginning in 2006.

The trouble is that the City Council, led by Councilman Robert Curran, wants the city election to be the same year as the presidential election.

And in November, Baltimore voters approved a charter amendment that moved the next general election for mayor to 2004. In effect, the measure gave Mayor Martin O'Malley, City Council President Sheila Dixon and the 18 members of the council five-year terms.

To complete the plan, however, the General Assembly must approve moving the primary election date -- or have 14 months between the elections.

"It's Baltimore City vs. the Senate president," Curran said. "It's truly a home rule question."

Miller says he still wants the election to coincide with the gubernatorial election to bring out an additional 20,000 voters. In Baltimore, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-1, that would mean a big boost to his party's nominee for governor.

His idea to have the mayoral and gubernatorial elections on the same dates also would save money, including the price tag associated with closing schools for polling. Under Curran's plan, three elections would be held in 2004 -- the presidential primary in March, the mayoral primary in September, and the combined general election in November.

A few unspoken factors figure in these discussions.

First, under the change approved by city voters, council members have a free pass at running for a legislative seat. They don't have to resign to run for the job.

Second, mayoral and council candidates have the first bite of the fund-raising pie. Under the law, the four-year election cycle runs with the years of the state election. That means that contributors who are "maxed out" under campaign finance limits after contributing to state candidates are free to contribute again the next January -- the start of the city election year.

But Miller also seems to have other matters on his mind -- namely the size of the Baltimore City Council and the $11,000 raise members voted themselves in December. He apparently is hoping the Senate's failure to act this year will get their attention.

"It is harder and harder in Annapolis to justify the number of councilmen on the Baltimore City Council and the salaries they are paid," he said. "During the interim, we will seek advice from the mayor of the city of Baltimore and hope to work out a positive solution."

Goodwin offers laughs, distractions for lawmakers

The General Assembly wrapped up its annual 90-day session last night after a fairly relaxed final day. Relaxed enough that the House of Delegates took a 90-minute break at midafternoon for a speech and book-signing by author Doris Kearns Goodwin.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. inexplicably invited the Pulitzer Prize winner and world-class Boston Red Sox fan to address the chamber on the climactic day.

For the occasion, Taylor purchased copies of Goodwin's memoir "Wait Till Next Year" for members of the House.

Goodwin shared political stories about Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Franklin D. Roosevelt -- and drew laughs with a tale about British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's famous quick wit.

When Churchill was staying at the White House, Roosevelt surprised him as he was getting out of a bath. When Roosevelt said he'd return later, Churchill told him to stay, remarking, "The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the president of the United States."

Afterward, legislators lined up in the House lounge to have Goodwin sign their books, some missing votes on a few bills as the House went back to work.

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