Schmoke's Moment of Truth


Kurt L. Schmoke had nothing to lose by spending the past several months criss-crossing Maryland, exploring his gubernatorial chances. He got to meet lots of decision-makers; he gained some name recognition -- considerations which will come in handy if he ever runs for the U.S. Senate. Yet in the end, this very cautious politician came down on the side of prudence, announcing his bid for a third term as Baltimore mayor in 1995.

The immediate effect on next year's gubernatorial election is to boost Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg's chances against Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening in the heavily Democratic Baltimore area. It also diminishes the choices open to Marylanders and deprives the city of a front-running candidate in the race. His withdrawal may be symbolic of the erosion of Baltimore's power in statewide Maryland politics.

Mr. Schmoke now becomes the favorite to retain his post in City Hall. His powers of incumbency are impressive as a $500-a-plate fund-raiser scheduled for Sept. 27 will undoubtedly show. City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who announced her mayoral bid last week, will have an exceedingly tough race ahead. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has toyed with running for mayor once again, will have to think carefully about his chances.

When he made his announcement yesterday, Mayor Schmoke struck a Schaeferesque pose as a builder-mayor, standing behind an architectural mock-up representing $2.5 billion worth of projects planned or under construction in the downtown Baltimore area.

"I believe that continuing to improve the city is also going to improve the state," he said. "It's very clear that this program doesn't happen in isolation. It needs leadership."

Mayor Schmoke's vision for Baltimore took nearly six years to crystallize. He has decided the city's economic future lies with development of its tourism, entertainment and cultural assets.

Many old-time Baltimoreans resent all the preoccupation with the glitzy Inner Harbor, though. Unless the mayor can show some real results in curbing crime and violence and improving rowhouse neighborhoods, the disenchanted may decide that Ms. Clarke's promise of citizen empowerment offers a better alternative. Or that a return to the "can-do" Schaefer era is in order.

With Mr. Schmoke out of the gubernatorial race, Mr. Steinberg can be expected to try to expand his Baltimore County base into the city. Mr. Glendening will predictably try to solidify his standing among black voters in the Washington area, many of whom would have supported Baltimore's African-American mayor. So the 1994 political year now has a new dynamic, as does the 1995 political year. Mayor Schmoke has made his choice.

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