Schmoke considering change of jobs

Kurt Schmoke is thinking about changes: changes in the economy, changes in the city, changes in his life.

He is also thinking, for the first time, of changing jobs.


In an interview yesterday, Schmoke said that while in the past he had routinely rejected calls to run for governor or U.S. senator, he now at least is considering it.

"In the past a number of people have asked me to run for statewide office in the next election and I never thought or planned to do so," he said. "At least I am listening now."


Schmoke could run for the Senate seat currently held by Paul Sarbanes or the governor's chair held by William Donald Schaefer. Both offices come up for election in 1994. Schmoke's second term as mayor is due to expire in December 1995.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski's seat is up next year, but that would be too soon in Schmoke's second term for him to run and, besides, Schmoke ruled out running against either Mikulski or Sarbanes.

"I would never run against Barbara or Paul," he said. (The state constitution forbids Schaefer from seeking re-election in 1994.)

But while Mikulski has announced she is running for re-election, there are rumors that Sarbanes might not seek another term, preferring an academic or foundation job instead.

"If Paul didn't run . . ." Schmoke said yesterday and then paused. "Well, that is down the road."

In a race for governor, while a number of relatively well-known candidates also can be expected to run, Schmoke would bring a well-organized political and fund-raising organization into the contest.

"I am not going to be mayor for life," Schmoke said. "And when I won re-election during a time when a lot of people (i.e. incumbents) were losing, some people made a lot out of that."

In fairness, Schmoke spent almost all of our interview and his day concentrating on the problems he faces as mayor, a job he says he still likes very much even given his budget problems.


And he said that reading a book a few weeks ago had helped him deal with those problems.

"It is a book I had never read before," Schmoke said. 'A Tale of Two Cities.' "

You never read a "Tale of Two Cities" before? I asked.

"That's just what Patricia said," Schmoke said, speaking of his wife. "She said: 'Didn't you read that in the eighth grade?' "


"Well," Schmoke said, "I must have read the Cliff's Notes."


And while it is easy to visualize many things in life -- such as the sun rising in the west or the moon being made of green cheese -- it is extremely difficult to visualize Kurt Schmoke reading a Cliff's Notes instead of doing the class assignment.

In any case, Schmoke read Charles Dickens' novel for the first time a few weeks ago.

"And I got all these mental pictures of life in the two cities [Paris and London] at the end of the 18th century and it gave me a completely different perspective on our problems," Schmoke said. "Right there in the first couple of pages there are all these problems listed."

Some of the problems that Dickens lists as existing in the two cities in 1775 include: "daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies . . .", mobs firing on agents of the law, youths having their tongues torn out with pincers, people being burned alive, and nations heading "with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it."

"It just gave me some perspective and reminded me that there are cycles to life and history and that we are going to make it through," Schmoke said. "These times today aren't the worst times that ever were."

Though they are pretty bad, right?


"They are certainly the worst economic times of my generation," Schmoke said. "They are the worst economic times since World War II. People are feeling real pain and the people in cities are feeling it more deeply than the people outside the cities."

What is the worst pain you personally have suffered?

"Laying off people," Schmoke said. "These layoffs aren't statistics. They are good people doing good things for the city. Early in the process, when I was reducing the payroll in the first few years, I felt these people would get jobs in the private economy. Then I started hearing the horror stories of people not finding anything."

Schmoke predicted that city services would continue to shrink and that citizens would be called upon to do certain things for themselves. "When we had to close some library branches, we got former librarians and teachers volunteering their services," he said. "Even things like people sweeping the gutters in front of their homes is an example of people trying to do things for themselves.

"The trouble is when you've got so many poor people, they want to participate in helping, but they've got basic survival facing them."

And Schmoke said that while he was criticized for making the statement, he does not regret predicting violence in the streets if state cuts get much worse.


"When the state threatened to throw 18,000 people off public assistance, I predicted public disorder and I still do," Schmoke said. "To drop the only way people have of living is to me a very dangerous thing to do and could very well lead to disorder when people get desperate."

Eventually, I asked, are the only people who are going to be left in Baltimore the people who can't move away?

"I meet many people who like cities, want to live in cities and will fight for the survival of cities," Schmoke said. "One thing I'm actually hoping happens is that in these tough economic times, people who would normally send their children to private schools without a second thought will now take a look at what city schools offer."

And what do city schools offer?

"The system has problems, yes, but we have some very good schools," Schmoke said, "And if these people join us, it will make our school system even better."

While Schmoke opposes tax increases, he believes that redistributing existing revenues could make a huge difference to Baltimore.


If, for instance, the income tax that people pay went to the city in which they work rather than the place in which they live, Baltimore would pick up an extra $112 million a year, way more than any budget shortfall the city has faced so far.

"People would pay real estate taxes where they live and income taxes where they work," Schmoke said. "If we had that, we could put more police on the streets, which I really want to do, make significant improvements in our schools, and actually improve programs rather than cut them."

But while Baltimore City would benefit, the surrounding counties would lose millions. And it is unlikely, therefore, that this plan would have much of a chance in the state legislature.

"I am practical enough of a politician to realize we will have to compromise," Schmoke said. "But there are ways of spreading the money around differently without raising anybody's taxes. There are things that can be done to help."

Any holiday message for the citizenry? I asked.

"I want people to know that we're going to take care of the basics and the city will thrive," Schmoke said. "But we're going to change. Eventually we will come out of these tough times, but we have to work together as partners and we can't expect the city to take care of us as much as in the past. But things will get better."


In the novel Schmoke just finished, Dickens talks about the "winter of despair", but also about the "spring of hope." So I asked Schmoke when Baltimore and the nation could expect to see some real hope.

"The summer of 1993," the mayor predicted. "And, yes, I'm holding my breath."