After 28 years of electing Hyman Pressman as comptroller, Baltimore city voters now find themselves having to take a fresh look at an office many of them have taken for granted. Until age and declining health slowed him down, Pressman's antics gave the post of comptroller a colorful flavor. His retirement, however, is a good opportunity to re-examine the office and its important role in city government. And in an otherwise rather lackluster election year, the controller's race is one of the few contests that is actually generating some excitement.
Three candidates are competing for the job. Mary Conaway has been elected three times to the office of register of wills and is looking to move up in city government. She has strong credentials in a range of fields, from music to education to theology. But we don't sense that she has an overarching vision of city government, of the direction in which the city's fiscal policy should be moving, or of the comptroller's role in keeping the city on track toward its goals.
Jacqueline McLean is an energetic and well-funded campaigner and, as a successful entrepreneur, she has a keen understanding of business and fiscal matters. Her eight years representing the 2nd District on the City Council have honed her knowledge of local government, and she has presented some sound ideas for improving the city's financial picture. No doubt she could be a competent comptroller.
Our choice, however, is Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, who currently represents the 3rd District on the City Council. Landers, who earned a business degree at Morgan State University, seems to us to have the strongest grasp of the job -- both its opportunities and its limitations. He cites the comptroller's watchdog role, played so well by Pressman in his early years, as essential to the health and efficiency of city government. He also offers sound ideas on making better use of the city's real estate holdings and following up on audits of city agencies.
At times on the council Landers has seemed to enjoy playing devil's advocate -- sometimes veering closer to being an obstructionist than seems wise. However, if not carried too far, that independent streak could work to the city's advantage.