It was a foregone conclusion that Mayor Kurt Schmoke would seek a second term. But now that Schmoke has officially announced, perhaps what has been so far a lackluster mayoral campaign can get under way in earnest.
As the incumbent, Schmoke will be defending his record at a time when the regional economy is mired in recession and local government faces extraordinarily tough fiscal choices. To his credit, Schmoke has managed to shepherd the city through recurrent budget crunches reasonably well despite massive withdrawal of federal aid to the cities. Baltimore still enjoys an excellent bond rating and the hardship created by necessary cuts in city services and personnel have been minimal.
But voters will be judging the mayor's performance on more than just the city's fiscal health. There are, in addition, major quality of life issues involving schools, housing and health care as well as specific policy questions regarding such matters as regional cooperation, Baltimore's shrinking political clout in Annapolis and managing ethnic and racial tensions in a diverse metropolis.
Perhaps even more important is the quality of leadership -- how effective has it been in marshaling this city's human and material resources to meet the challenges that lie ahead? Is Baltimore a city that is moving forward, or one that is merely marking time?
As the campaign season gets under way, we expect candidates for the city's highest office to engage in vigorous debate on all these issues so that voters can make informed decisions about who is best qualified to lead Baltimore for the next four years.