Promises to keep?

Editorial Notebook

August 04, 2007|By Ann LoLordo

A political race worth following should have its share of good ideas. It should encourage creative thinking and constructive debate, and engage voters in the conversation about government. Incumbents often prefer to talk about what they've done; challengers discuss what they plan to do. But the conversation should be reality-based, not driven by promises on which they cannot deliver.

In 1928, Republican leaders equated the presidential election of Herbert Hoover with continued prosperity, which meant a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Today's mayoral campaign hasn't coined anything quite so catchy, but candidates are making their own promises that deserve a reality check. Here's a sampling:

Crime: Councilman Keiffer Mitchell says he plans to hire 400 new police officers; that's nearly double what the department hired in 2006. At about $50,000 a cop (including salary and benefits), such a plan would cost the city $20 million - less than what the city has spent in police overtime in the past two years. But there are other considerations: The police academy can handle only about 40 recruits per class, so it would take about two years to bring that many new officers onto the force - and that's if they all pass the civil service test (an unlikely scenario, since 40 percent of police officer candidates last year failed it). Hiring 400 police officers won't happen overnight, even if Mr. Mitchell increases their pay 15 percent.

Mayor Sheila Dixon doesn't have position papers. Ask her position on an issue, her spokesman says, and she will respond. But as a short-term incumbent, she is aware of the troubles with recruiting police and would like to increase the number of police cadets because about 84 percent of them actually go on to become police officers.

To offset other problems, the mayor has proposed tutoring police recruits so more will pass the civil service test. Hmmm ... that sounds like a job for Sylvan Learning, not the city Police Department.

As part of Jill P. Carter's crime platform, she says she "will enter into a memorandum of understanding with the state that will allow Maryland State troopers to help provide more emergency services in the city." If she had bothered to ask the state police superintendent about this, she would have discovered they are already here - more than a dozen troopers are assisting city police in specialty units. That makes more sense than routing troopers to 911 calls in the city.

Education: Mr. Mitchell is plain-spoken: "No more city-state partnership. No more blame shifting. No more finger pointing. I will assume responsibility for our schools and demand accountability from all those involved in the system, including myself." To replace the present system would require a change in the law. That could prompt state lawmakers to tamper with the law that guarantees state education dollars to Baltimore.

Influence: To level the playing field on the city's powerful Board of Estimates, Mr. Mitchell would introduce legislation to cut the membership to the three top elected officials, eliminating the mayor's ability to appoint two members. That would shake things up a bit - but would Mayor Mitchell have a change of heart?

Mayoral accessibility: Candidate Andrey Bundley promises to be a "leader on location" who will conduct City Hall business from a "mobile mayor's office." A used, 1999 Entertainer MCI bus with 240,000 miles goes for about $250,000, but a "previously owned" 2006 school bus can be had for $42,000.

Candidate A. Robert Kaufman is taking his lead from the late socialist leader Eugene V. Debs, who said, "We are in politics not to get votes, but to develop the power to emancipate the working class." Check out his page and the entry, "The Socialist Bob Kaufman's 28 Electoral Theses." Item No. 6 reads:

"Democratize our government. Non-partisan, city wide, proportional representative, instant run-off and publicly financed elections. Eliminate the expense of primary elections. Have the City Council hire a city manager. Fire the Mayor."

Now that's progressive - a mayoral candidate who wants to abolish the job.

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