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A crucial election year


As Baltimore city residents go to the polls tomorrow to elect a mayor, council president, comptroller and 18 City Council members, never have the challenges confronting Baltimore city been greater. Yet neither have the potential rewards for successfully meeting those challenges.

Changing economic conditions have transformed the role of local government, which has had to fill the void left by the massive withdrawal of federal aid to cities and the collapse of the manufacturing industries which undergirded Baltimore's growth for more than 200 years.

That is why the "issues" in this election go far beyond conventional local litmus tests -- trash pickups, tree-planting and the perennial pothole-filling. Among the most important are:

* How can the city maintain adequate services with its current resources and tax rate? How can the size and cost of city government be downsized, and what steps can be taken to make the city more appealing to middle-class homeowners?

* What areas of local government require greater regional cooperation, and what should be the strategy of its elected officials in dealing with the city's interests in the General Assembly?

* What role should the mayor and city council play in the public schools, and how can the schools be reformed to promote, rather than hinder, economic development?

* How can the city increase the effectiveness of its law-enforcement and criminal justice agencies, and what can be done to reverse the spiraling crime rate?

* How can ethnic and race relations in Baltimore be improved, and what steps should be taken to maintain or strengthen a climate of diversity in the city?

In recent weeks, we have stated our views on many of these subjects as they relate to the candidates in Thursday's election. Baltimore is at an historic crossroads; the choices voters make this week will affect the city's fortunes far into the future.

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