Mixed dates? Nuts!

October 06, 2003

BALTIMORE'S GOOFY election schedule continues to be held hostage to political gamesmanship and might become even more absurd.

Four years ago, when Baltimore voters decreed that municipal balloting should coincide with presidential elections, it was supposed to be a simple matter of fixing the calendar. But legislators in Annapolis refused to do their part. The result: an impractical 14-month gap between last month's city primary election and the November 2004 general election.

State legislators are now hatching a plot to further disrupt city operations. They want to advance the next municipal elections from 2008 to 2006, thereby reducing the terms of the incoming mayor and City Council from four years to less than two.

This terrible idea, spearheaded by Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's blessings, is motivated by the same self-serving politics that created the current schedule, and should be quickly dispatched with the contempt it deserves.

Who would want to take an agency head's job in Baltimore when the likely tenure is so brief? And what chance of success would there be for long-term plans that require the consistent support of an uninterrupted mayoral administration?

Mr. Oaks says it would be tidier if city elections were to coincide with state and local contests elsewhere in Maryland. "Logistically, it's better to have everything on the same cycle," he argues.

But the bills' proponents make no secret of their desire to make sure Mayor Martin O'Malley will have to surrender his city post if he chooses to run for governor or U.S. senator in 2006. For this, they would sacrifice whatever chance Mr. O'Malley and the nominees for City Council have of making valuable contributions to upgrading the quality of life in Baltimore if they win election to new terms next year, as expected.

It's time for state legislators to show some responsibility. Instead of practicing one-upmanship, they ought to give Baltimore what voters wanted in the 1999 referendum: both rounds of municipal elections in a presidential year.

That is easily done. The General Assembly should simply remove the ridiculous 14-month gap between the 2008 primary and general election. Nothing else needs to be changed.

The overriding goal should be to increase political participation in the city. Tying municipal elections to the presidential election cycle - which always attracts the highest voter participation - is the best way to ensure that.

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