Hey, Baltimore is doing OK


In 1989, Fortune magazine ranked Baltimore one of the top 10 cities for business.

"A company in this city can hope to do business without monstrous costs for everything from wages to real estate," said Fortune's advisory panel.

In 1990, World Trade magazine proclaimed us one of the best cities in North America for international companies.

"Following the collapse of the steel and ship-building industries," gushed the magazine's writers, "Baltimore moved from a muscle nTC power to a brain power economy."

Then we have Financial World magazine, which gave City Hall a B-plus when it rated us one of the top 10 best managed cities in the country, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which gave us its Livability Award, and Places Rated Almanac, which ranked us as one of the best places to live, and Inc. magazine, which called us one of the most entrepreneurial cities in the country, and Working Mother magazine, which earlier this year applauded us for being one of the top five cities for child care and, by golly, we could go on and on and on.

Why just this week, the National Civic League, gave us its All-America City Award, citing the city's success in getting citizens, government and the business community to work together to solve problems.

So, what's the deal here?

How come all of these groups are saying Baltimore is such a

great place to live, raise a family and do business?

What, oh what, do they know about this burg that we don't?

Actually, they know what we know: This city is OK. There are worse places to live and work. For all of its problems, this city is all right.

So now, here we are knee-deep in an election season that must surely take the record as one of the most uneventful and (if you're in the news business) most boring in history.

Fourteen candidates have filed for mayor -- including well-known political veterans such as former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns and former State's Attorney William A. Swisher -- and yet, between them, they've barely raised a peep.

The incumbent mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke, seems to have all of the money and he seems to have all of the key endorsements.

A few months ago, when he first launched his re-election campaign, the mayor promised that he would not be a laid-back campaigner this time.

"If I'm attacked," he told reporters, "I'm going to attack back."

Since then, however, his opponents haven't laid a glove on him.

And veteran news hounds just can't understand it.

Well, I have a theory about all this: I think it is just possible that the mayor's race lacks passion because the incumbent has done a pretty good job. I think it is just possible that the simmering public discontent with Schmoke's performance that his opponents like to refer to just doesn't exist.

Look at the national accolades listed above: They suggest that the mayor has been both a good administrator and a good salesman for the city. They suggest his administration has been good to both the business community and the average citizen. They suggest that for all of the problems this city faces -- and they are legion -- a whole lot of other cities have it worst and aren't responding nearly as well.

So how do you run against such a record? Do you say, "Vote for me 'cause I need the job"? Uh, uh. Lacks punch.

Since he's been in office, Schmoke has generated some curious criticisms. VIPs complain that they haven't felt sufficiently important. Movers and shakers complain that they haven't been invited into his inner circle. Reporters complain that the mayor has not been nearly as colorful as former Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

Then, when you go out into the streets, ordinary people will note with sorrow that Schmoke has been in office for nearly four whole years, yet there is still crime, there is still poverty and disease and homelessness, the city bureaucracy is still pig-headed, and the school system is still impoverished.

But then they'll scratch their heads and concede that he's done a pretty good job nonetheless and perhaps it wasn't fair to expect him to work miracles.

Now, keep in mind that I'm not telling you to vote for the man. I don't do endorsements.

No, I'm just stating the obvious: If Schmoke had snapped his fingers and made poverty and crime disappear when he first came into office, nobody would vote for him today.

We'd be afraid he had demonic powers.

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