Scrambling for No. 2

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The race to succeed Mary Pat Clarke as City Council president is being overshadowed by the keen mayoral duel between the incumbent, Kurt L. Schmoke, and Mrs. Clarke. This is a pity because the president will play a pivotal role, regardless of who is elected the next mayor of Baltimore.

Four men and a woman are fighting for the Democratic nomination for City Council president. Except for one -- the disgraced former Sheriff Shelton Stewart -- all of them are seasoned members of the council.

Even though their background and experience level may seem roughly identical, council members Lawrence Bell, Joseph J. DiBlasi, Vera P. Hall and Carl Stokes are not cast from the same mold by any means. Where Mrs. Hall is reserved, Mr. Bell is an outspoken searcher of television cameras; where Mr. Stokes cites his oversight performance, Mr. DiBlasi refers to his expertise in fiscal matters on the council as well as in professional life.

The City Council president is Baltimore's No. 2 elected municipal officer. He or she not only presides over the legislative branch of the city government but chairs the meetings of the Board of Estimates, the executive committee that awards contracts and takes care of major day-to-day decisions.

In Baltimore's city government, the mayor has sweeping powers. For that reason, the mayor, and not the City Council president, controls three votes of the five-member board through his appointees.

If elected, Mr. Stokes and Mr. DiBlasi say they would seek a change to this arrangement by stripping the voting power of two of the mayor's appointees. Mr. Bell says he would have to think about the implications of such a move that would fundamentally alter the balance of power on the board.

Mrs. Hall has advocated eliminating the comptroller's position. She would want the finance director on the board as a voting member.

The candidates for the council president also differ in their views about Mayor Schmoke. Having served as his floor leader in the legislative body, Mrs. Hall is unabashedly for the mayor, who is seeking a third term. Mr. DiBlasi has often sided with the mayor. As for Mr. Bell and Mr. Stokes, the former is closely allied with Mrs. Clarke and the latter has often been in her camp.

We urge city voters to scrutinize the records and positions of the leading City Council candidates and get to know them better by attending candidates' forums. Whoever is elected to that post in November's general election is likely to be a future contender for the mayor's job. For that reason alone, voters should be well informed.

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