"The next step is to say we're doing these things as a means to an end, and that end is to grow the city," he said.

O'Doherty said that many initiatives that Rawlings-Blake laid the groundwork for in her first year and a half in office would come to fruition in the next four years. He pointed out that homeowners will see a small reduction in their property tax bill next year, the first year of her plan to reduce property tax rates by 9 percent over nine years.

In January, a task force formed by Rawlings-Blake to draft a 10-year solution to the city's fiscal challenges is slated to present its findings.

"We're not going to be able to do anything unless we have a strong fiscal background," O'Doherty said. Task force members are looking at solutions to rein in the exploding costs of benefits and pensions for city employees.

Rawlings-Blake will soon unveil a strategy to pay for the severe maintenance needs at public schools, O'Doherty said. She has already laid out a plan to streamline the housing department and expedite the sale of vacant homes, he said. And she has announced an overhaul of the city's poorly maintained and understaffed rec centers, which would devote resources to improving 30 centers, turning over others to private groups or closing them.

Crenson pointed out that one of Rawlings-Blake's most prominent initiatives, the Grand Prix race, has shown mixed results.

After championing the race since her tenure as City Council president, the mayor through her aides threatened this week to sever ties with the group that organized the inaugural three-day racing festival, claiming it owed the city more than $1.5 million in unpaid taxes and fees.

Crenson said the Grand Prix was another in a long series of projects that city leaders have laid out in the past three decades that focused on drawing visitors to the Inner Harbor area. Officials are also toying with the idea of building a new arena to attract performers and conferences.

"The idea that we pump money into facilities in the city's center that are going to bring a lot of visitors, we've been doing that since the 1970s and it doesn't seem to be doing any good," he said.

Crenson suggested that Rawlings-Blake focus on enhancing Baltimore for residents.

"How can we use or magnify our assets to solve our problems?" he asked.

Schmoke said Rawlings-Blake could elevate the mood of the city by homing in on small projects that would show residents quick results.

"How do you let people know it's going to be better in the city? Take some small things and do them well," Schmoke said. "It doesn't have to be big stuff, just the sense that things are getting better."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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