Doer vs. thinker: A matter of style

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Seldom have the differences in leadership between Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke been as stark as in the recent flap over the city's curfew.

After the city stopped enforcing its year-old curfew July 7 because Maryland's highest court struck down an almost identical law in Frederick, Mrs. Clarke, who is challenging the mayor's bid for a third term, sprang into action. She quickly called the council into emergency session and pushed through a revised bill after just one public hearing. When Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke did not sign the bill immediately, she charged that the city was "living on borrowed time" without a law to keep youngsters off the streets at night.

Mr. Schmoke, however, refused to rush to judgment. He found money to keep pools and recreation centers open later and hired a legal expert to determine if the new law would withstand a court challenge. Only after the expert cleared the measure did the mayor act. He signed the bill Thursday, two weeks after it passed the council, saying, "It requires real analysis to make sure these laws pass constitutional muster."

Kurt L. Schmoke vs. Mary Pat Clarke -- The One-Man Think Tank vs. The Doyenne of Do It Now.

"They're at different extremes," state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., chairman of Baltimore's Senate delegation, said of the rivals who will square off in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. "He tends to study issues, to defer judgment until a study is completed. She tends to make decisions on the spot."

In Mr. Schmoke, voters have the quintessential cerebral candidate. During his 7 1/2 years in office, the 45-year-old Ivy League-educated Rhodes scholar has carefully embraced a range of new ideas, from Nehemiah housing, a public-private partnership to build low-income developments, to needle exchange, a program to reduce AIDS infection among drug addicts. He also has heavily promoted an idea of his own that won him national recognition -- decriminalizing drugs. Last week, Newsweek magazine included him among its list of the "overclass" -- the new elite in America.

But Mr. Schmoke's low-key approach and studious manner have often made him seem lost in thought: aloof from some of the gritty details of urban life, reluctant to be a cheerleader and unable to move swiftly.

In Mrs. Clarke, voters have the prototypical populist politician. During her two terms as council president, the 54-year-old former schoolteacher has often come across as a feisty one-woman clearinghouse for constituent concerns and a champion of community causes.

But Mrs. Clarke's full-speed-ahead style has often made her seem frantic and frenzied: so quick to jump on the latest bandwagon that she acts before thinking, unwilling to take politically unpopular stands, and infrequently siding against individual neighborhoods.

On their campaign rounds of community meetings and debates, both make the case that their style of leadership -- as well as their often-similar positions on the issues -- is just what Baltimore needs.

Mayor Schmoke argues that his steady hand has enabled the city to survive a recession and state and federal cuts while keeping a balanced budget and a high bond rating. His administration, he says, has moved forward on projects from the Columbus Center for marine biotechnology at the Inner Harbor, to the empowerment zone, a $100 million federal program to revitalize some of the city's most decayed neighborhoods.

"I am running for re-election because we are building on a foundation of progress," he said at a community meeting in Charles Village this month.

Mrs. Clarke contends that her take-charge way of doing things will inspire the city to pull out of its well-documented spiral of decline.

"Philosophically, we may not be that different," she told a forum sponsored by the New Democratic Coalition-5 in North Baltimore. "But I'm a doer."

And each is taking swipes at the other's style.

"I don't spend a lot of time at national debates," said Mrs. Clarke, an obvious reference to Mr. Schmoke's frequent television appearances in support of his position that drug addiction should be treated as a health problem.

"I believe very firmly there's a difference between do-it-now and do-it-right," Mr. Schmoke said.

To some, the rival approaches of the two can be explained by their differing positions. As mayor of a city where disproportionate power resides with the chief executive, Mr. Schmoke sets the agenda, limiting Mrs. Clarke mostly to to articulating issues and trying to prod the executive branch.

"Their jobs are apples and oranges," said state Del. Timothy D. Murphy, a South Baltimore Democrat who served in the council until January. "She only has the resources to react."

Others say the differences reflect more a fundamental difference in their backgrounds and temperament.

"The mayor is more of a methodical person because of his legal background and his scholarly training," said the Rev. Willie Ray, known for his Stop the Killing crusade. "Mary Pat came out of the neighborhoods. . . . Her response is a little more impulsive, but sincere."

Her impulsiveness and willingness to seize on popular issues were readily evident in the last council session. Attempting to capitalize on public dissatisfaction with the cable monopoly in Baltimore, Mrs. Clarke promised in early June to introduce a franchise proposal for a competing cable television company. A day later, she backed off her plans after being questioned by The Sun's editorial board over why she had settled on a specific company.

Her desire to get things done as fast as possible has led to some chaotic times on the council floor. In March, six council members walked out to thwart her last-minute, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to ban incinerators from the city's trash-disposal plan while the plan's chief sponsor was at home ++ recuperating from knee surgery.

Though her action earned her the enmity of some of her council colleagues, her advocacy won her the admiration of environmental groups. "All along, Mary Pat has been on our side on the incinerator issue, and the mayor has tried to walk a tightrope," said Daniel Jerrems, head of the Baltimore Recycling Coalition.

At times, Mrs. Clarke has advocated policies with a seeming disregard for how much they will cost or whether the city could afford them.

In 1993, the city extended health benefits to domestic partners of gay city workers. Mrs. Clarke immediately suggested extending the benefits to other "nontraditional families," such as adult children with elderly parents -- a move city officials said could prove to be prohibitively expensive.

For all her impatience, however, Mrs. Clarke's instincts often are borne out.

Fed up with the disrepair and crime in the city's public housing projects, she opposed the reappointment of Robert W. Hearn as the housing chief -- a year before Mr. Schmoke replaced him with Daniel P. Henson III. And some of the concerns she raised from the start about the city's 3-year-old contract with Education Alternatives Inc., the Minnesota company that operates nine Baltimore public schools, are now being voiced by the mayor.

Mrs. Clarke also has shown she can stick tenaciously to issues she considers important. She has led the council in successfully opposing two piggyback income tax increases proposed by the mayor -- and in fighting for a phase-out of a bottle tax and reductions in the property tax.

But she often seems unwilling to graciously bow out of a fight -- even when the cause is clearly lost. In 1993, she pushed a property tax cut through the council, only to have Mr. Schmoke veto the entire budget; her attempts at an override fell embarrassingly short of the required three-quarters majority.

The mayor, in contrast, is more careful and analytical, relying more on intellectual persuasion than pressure to achieve his goals.

When Gov. Parris N. Glendening axed a last-resort aid program for the poor and disabled this year, Mr. Schmoke worked quietly to try to convince the governor to change his mind, helping to bring about a far more limited assistance package. Unlike Mrs. Clarke, who immediately seized on the issue to pass a council resolution, Mr. Schmoke went public with his objections only when the cuts were about to take effect. His statements were seen as tardy by advocates, who thought he should have spoken out sooner.

Similarly, proponents of tax breaks for fixing up vacant homes and improving residential properties say Mr. Schmoke was slow to embrace the idea. Now he is touting them as part of his plan to boost homeownership.

"He was dragged kicking and screaming," said Daniel J. Loden, president of the Baltimore Homeowners' Coalition for Fair Property Taxes.

His deliberateness seems most tortured when it comes to making decisions about his key appointments. Mr. Hearn, the former housing chief; Edward V. Woods, the former police commissioner; Richard Hunter, the former school superintendent and Honora M. Freeman, the former economic development director were all replaced by Mr. Schmoke only after others in and out of government called for their ouster.

"You can reason with him until you're blue in the face. But the only way he will make the change is when it becomes a political liability," said 3rd District Councilman Martin O'Malley, a frequent critic of the Schmoke administration.

In a perplexing contrast to his indecisiveness on political appointments, Mr. Schmoke often is quick to embrace innovations, even when they're controversial.

He withstood a barrage of criticism from ministers to offer the contraceptive Norplant to high school girls. He rebuffed repeated attacks from unions, teachers and community leaders over the city's venture into school privatization, saying he would only end the EAI experiment if there was enough evidence that it wasn't working.

More recently, he pushed to have Baltimore become a test site for a new imaging device that can look through clothing and see whether someone is carrying a gun.

"I see in Mayor Schmoke someone who is both a visionary and somewhat cautious as well. It's an interesting contrast," said Douglas Becker, president of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., which runs tutoring centers in city schools. "I've seen him as a risk taker and as someone who is restrained, trying to make sure these visions don't carry an untenable price tag."

The boldness and foresight was perhaps never more apparent than in the city's efforts last year to be named as one of just six federal urban empowerment zones.

Although some on his staff thought Baltimore's chances were small, Mr. Schmoke assembled a high-powered team to put together the city's proposal. Once the application was submitted, he used his connections with the Clinton administration to lobby for its approval at every opportunity.

The result: Baltimore was chosen last December over more politically important cities, such as Cleveland and Los Angeles, and now will get tax breaks for businesses worth $225 million as well as $100 million in federal grants.

"I think that showed a great deal of leadership," said state Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, a West Baltimore Democratic.

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