Tough choices

July 10, 2002

THE SIGNIFICANCE of local elections can fade quickly into the fog of rhetoric and promises. But this year in Baltimore, the stakes are clear, concrete and immediate.

With two fewer senators as the result of population loss, the city's legislative delegation will approach city issues in Annapolis -- including the need for financial help -- with vastly diminished power.

And Baltimoreans actually could make the power outage worse. The historic drive for more African-American representation could collide with the city's need to retain an important power source.

In the new 41st senatorial district -- north and northwest Baltimore -- voters will decide if the city continues to be represented by Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who chairs a committee that helps to allocate Maryland's financial resources. Other jurisdictions wait decades for such influence.

Yet the decision is not an easy one. Political clout may not be the most important factor in a district that is 70 percent black. Many will want to be represented in the state Senate by an African-American; seniority and power could be eclipsed by that prospect. First-term Del. Lisa A. Gladden and former Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., both black, oppose Senator Hoffman.

Nor is this the only race of consequence for Baltimore. Veteran Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg faces a difficult race, also in District 41. And House Majority Leader Maggie I. McIntosh will run for re-election in central and northeast Baltimore's 43rd District. She will be running against a former delegate with proven voter appeal and three incumbents. Here, again, a leader of stature could lose.

In central-city District 44, one finds a contest in which the choice should be easier. Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a man of little power in Annapolis, faces Del. Verna L. Jones, a talented newcomer. Mr. Mitchell runs under a cloud as the result of a $10,000 undisclosed loan he took from members of the bail bond industry. The Mitchell family name has been political gold in Baltimore, but its current legislative standard-bearer will be running in a new district against an attractive newcomer.

In the south side's 46th District, the new map pits Perry Sfikas against George W. Della Jr. in a battle of incumbent senators. Both are skilled campaigners with loyal followers. Bottom line: Baltimore will lose one of them. Similarly, the district will be the scene of a fight among five incumbent delegates for three seats.

In the end, of course, candidates have to make their case. And voters have to listen.

Let's hope everyone runs hard, plays by the rules and avoids appealing to our worst instincts.

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