It was classic Du all the way: "The question on my mind," he said, after announcing that he would run against Kurt Schmoke in September's primary is, "Are we better off today than we were four years ago?" Hardly a creative or poetic re-entry into the mayoral race, but a nitty-gritty approach that, like Du Burns himself, has an uncanny, unpolished way of getting to the point: Progress in key areas like education, fiscal policy and service delivery has been at times lackluster.
Blame it, in part, on Schmoke's style -- so dramatically different from his precinct-wise, headline-grabbing predecessor. Blame, in part, city residents, who keep expecting razzle dazzle from a nose-to-the-grindstone guy. Blame, too, simple economics: The city continues to be drained of crucial revenue as the middle class trickles out to the suburbs.
Whatever the reasons, Burns' candidacy hints that Kurt Schmoke may be a little vulnerable. The question, of course, which it is still far too early to answer, is whether Burns, who after all lost to Schmoke in the last election and is still carrying a substantial campaign debt, is in a position to take advantage of that vulnerability. Or whether he, or anyone, can do a better job. At this point, it really doesn't matter.
The city seems mired in vague and sometimes competing goals. Burns' candidacy will offer an alternative vision for the future, and by challenging the incumbent it also will sharpen public understanding of what Schmoke is all about -- what his agenda will be for the next four years. Whatever the outcome of September's primary, the city will be well-served by such a debate.