Keenly contested elections for high offices stir strong emotions. In fact, it often suits the strategy of rival candidates to portray their campaigns as life-and-death cliffhangers so that partisans can be mobilized, money raised and voters turned out.
As Baltimore's major daily newspaper, The Sun becomes the object of much guessing and second- guessing by the politically active at election times. News stories are subjected to endless dissecting for hidden biases; editorials are scrutinized for hints as to whom the paper might endorse in the election.
These attempts at reading tea leaves are part of the political game. Background noise, in effect. The purpose of The Sun's news columns is to explain the issues involved in the election, report what the candidates have to say and assess how their campaigns are going. Reporters involved operate under a professional mandate not to reflect their own political preferences.
The Sun's editorial pages are in the business of offering opinions, promoting discourse, challenging the record of incumbents and evaluating the alternatives presented by their opponents. That is the case in every election. If the newspaper criticizes or praises one candidate or another, this should not be interpreted as a final judgment. Only in August will The Sun offer its recommendations for mayor, City Council president, comptroller and 18 City Council seats in the primary elections. No decisions have yet been made. General election endorsements will come as November approaches.
Because Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is running for re-election, he can expect plenty of commentary, favorable and unfavorable, on his eight-year record. Because City Council President Mary Pat Clarke is running against him, she too can expect plenty of commentary, favorable and unfavorable, on her record, the conduct of her campaign and the issues she raises. Because The Sun has always favored a two-party system, it will encourage Republicans to enter the fray. Independents, too.
In arriving at its decisions, the newspaper makes every effort to get written responses to a number of pertinent questions from each of the candidates. Staff members will attend public forums to gauge office-seekers' familiarity with issues and see how they handle themselves.
The purpose of The Sun's endorsements is not to pick winners but to give the newspaper's backing to those candidates it deems most likely to deliver open government, public accounting, fiscal responsibility and high ethical standards. A thorough understanding of the city and its constituents is a basic requirement. In making these assessments, the newspaper takes a dim view of those candidates who run for cover and try to avoid real debate and discussion.
If on election day a highly informed citizenry goes to the polls, The Sun hopes it has done its part. Actual results are grist for another day.