It would seem that the mayoral candidates would have plenty to talk about before the Sept. 12 primary election: Baltimore keeps losing population, job-providing businesses and tax revenue. Blocks and blocks of rowhouses are vacant and boarded up. Crime continues to be a major concern and city schools need desperate attention.
Yet the duel between City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke so far has hardly touched on substantive issues. Instead, the candidates have been engaging vicious sniping and ugly name calling that bodes ill for the rest of the campaign, unless it is stopped now.
Relations between the two highest elected officials at City Hall have always been complicated. Eight years ago, when Mr. Schmoke became Baltimore's first elected African-American mayor, Ms. Clarke briefly was an ally. But the mayor soon began treating the City Council president as a rival and mutual suspicion soon developed into thinly veiled hostility.
Things went from bad to worse after Ms. Clarke said the federal probe of alleged corruption in the city Housing Authority did not go high enough. "It's not that they're moving too slowly," she told The Sun's Michael Olesker, "it's that they're too lowly. This goes to the mayor and [Housing Commissioner Daniel] Henson. This is corruption combined with incompetence. In both men."
Schmoke strategists took this as a declaration of all-out war. They responded by questioning the Clarke campaign's financial records and her failure to disclose her interest in a loan her husband acquired to buy an apartment building near Johns Hopkins University.
These are legitimate questions. But the Schmoke camp has resorted to overkill in insinuating that Ms. Clarke is corrupt. And vice versa. Things are getting out of hand.
We are worried about overheated rhetoric in the mayoral campaign.
Overblown charges and countercharges may make interesting political guerrilla theater and news stories, but they divert attention from the many serious and fundamental issues Baltimore faces in the 1990s. Worse yet, they threaten to poison the atmosphere of the city and generate ill will that may be difficult to heal.
Baltimore is at a crossroads.
Unless the population flight and exodus of businesses can be stopped, the city's fiscal woes and physical deterioration will accelerate. We want Mr. Schmoke and Ms. Clarke to address this crisis and detail to the voters what they would do during the next four years to change the downward spiral.
That is what this mayoral election is all about.