Who Controls Schmoke's City Hall?


David M. Gillece's removal as Baltimore's economic development chief leaves us troubled and concerned. With the local economy still in recession, luring new business ventures to the city is essential.

Yet Mr. Gillece, a widely acclaimed professional, was unceremoniously dumped on the day when two overlapping boosterism agencies he had worked to merge were combined into the new Baltimore City Development Corp. Effective Oct. 4, he will be replaced by Honora M. Freeman, a lawyer with scant experience in the complicated issues involved in packaging multi-million dollar real estate deals -- but with all the right political connections within the Schmoke administration.

Mr. Gillece's supporters say he had grown increasingly unhappy because Larry Gibson and Ronald M. Shapiro, two of Mayor Schmoke's behind-the-scenes decision makers, were pressuring him and interfering in what should have been non-political decisions. Precisely how such alleged pressures were applied has yet to surface.

Not so, Schmoke insiders insist. They accuse Mr. Gillece of not being a team player and of having repeatedly negotiated deals that were not in the city's best interest. They credit the mayor with having spotted such flaws before deals were ratified. Specific evidence to back up these allegations has yet to surface.

The implication in this power struggle is that anyone in the Schmoke administration is expendable unless he or she fulfills the wishes of Messrs. Gibson and Shapiro, both of whom operate out of the same law office. Thus, Ms. Freeman's prime qualification is not economic development expertise -- because she does not have enough -- but her ties to those kingmakers whom she served in the law offices of Shapiro and Olander until it was decided she would be more valuable at City Hall.

None of this bodes well for Baltimore City or the Schmoke administration. It appears that many key decisions are being made by two lawyers who were neither elected nor have any formal relationship to the municipal government. Their qualifications are as masterminds of Mr. Schmoke's three winning city-wide campaigns. We find this whole setup distasteful. One of the mayor's problems is a perception that he works from within a small circle that regards outsiders as enemies or meddlers.

The mayor should waste no time rectifying this situation. He has to make it clear that his non-elected friends are personal advisers -- nothing more -- and that he runs a government open to different ideas and creative tension. To end confusion and uncertainty, the mayor should present in detail his overall program for the city's economic development so that confidence is not lost. As the general election approaches and the mayor looks beyond to his second term, he must galvanize support in the business community behind his objectives. There is no better place to start than with the city's economic development vision for the future.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad