Year-end musings on candidates, killings, demolitions

URBAN CHRONICLE

December 28, 2006|By ERIC SIEGEL

Some final thoughts and comments as the year draws to a close:

Forget the idea that Stuart O. Simms' brief tenure as the running mate in the abortive Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Doug Duncan and his own unsuccessful run for attorney general whetted his appetite for making a run in next year's Baltimore mayoral race.

Despite some speculation to the contrary, the highly respected former city state's attorney and state Cabinet secretary said last week that he has "no intention" of joining the long list of potential candidates.

The candidates will be vying to defeat City Council President Sheila Dixon, who will become mayor when Martin O'Malley moves into the governor's mansion next month and says she will run for a full term in the September primary. Simms was being mentioned as a potential candidate in part because of his solid credentials and strong administrative background.

"Earlier this year, I learned to never say never to anything," Simms said, but added that his lack of interest in running was "fairly categorical."

"I have for years indicated that is not an office I aspire to," Simms said of being mayor. "That's not a hunt I'm in."

If Dixon were smart, instead of quoting Scripture, she would release to the public everything she gave to the state prosecutor in the Utech investigation that is undeniably undermining her credibility. And if those documents didn't include her tax returns, she should release those, too.

The question isn't just whether the state prosecutor concludes any laws were broken, but whether the public has confidence in Dixon's conduct in office.

I have yet to hear a coherent, persuasive explanation of why the city's homicide rate has remained so stubbornly high - particularly in light of city reports of reductions in most other categories of violent crime.

After dropping sharply and falling below 300 for the first time in a decade in 2000, the number of annual murders in the city has remained in the mid- to high 200s.

You have to go back to 1988 to find a year when there were fewer than 250 murders in the city. (For the record, there were 234 murders that year.) And you have to go back a decade before that, to 1978, for a year when the city had fewer than 200 murders.

A question for next year: Can the city reduce its number of homicides as figures released last week showed that violent crime, including homicide, is up nationwide?

First, the University of Baltimore tears down the Odorite Building on Mount Royal Avenue to build a student center. Then the Archdiocese of Baltimore demolishes the Rochambeau on North Charles Street to create a prayer garden. Now Mercy Medical Center wants to raze a string of historic rowhouses to build an in-patient tower.

One thing these demolitions have in common is that they all are being undertaken by nonprofits.

Is there a trend here?

Johns Hopkins, executive director of preservation group Baltimore Heritage, thinks there is - but can't quite pinpoint why.

"I can't exactly put my finger on it," he said. "I think it's the nature of the institutions to think that their mission is so important that it overrides any other aspect of anything."

Hopkins has an addition to the list: the Turner-White Co. building on West Lombard Street, which he says is one of the city's last remaining cast-iron buildings and is being torn down by the University of Maryland Medical System to make way for a medical building.

"You always hear about evil for-profit developers," Hopkins said. "In my book, these people are the saints."

Hopkins singled out for canonization Himmelrich Associates and David Tufaro, who converted the old Montgomery Ward's building in Southwest Baltimore to Montgomery Park, and Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, whose lengthy list of historic adaptation projects include Tide Point in Locust Point, the Munsey Building downtown and Clipper Mill in Woodberry.

Even by the standards of the snail-like pace of urban redevelopment projects, the situation involving the superblock downtown is mind-boggling. Seven years after the start of the Westside Renaissance, the question of who should redevelop that parcel - and for how much - is still unresolved.

Shouldn't this have been worked out long ago?

Just how much does a successful sports team mean to a city?

In the long run, probably not much.

The Orioles won three World Series championships - in 1966, 1970 and 1983 - while the city went into a tailspin.

But in the short run, a team's success can mean quite a bit.

The Ravens' run at the end of the 2000 season that ended in a victory in Super Bowl XXXV added to the optimism and enthusiasm of the city that was shaking off the doldrums of the previous decade under an energetic new administration.

Wouldn't it be delicious if the Ravens again helped galvanize the city at a time of change and uncertainty?

eric.siegel@baltsun.com

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