The two hottest questions in the City Council race i Northeast Baltimore's Third District are:
* Can the Currans retain a seat a family member has held since 1963 now that Martin E. "Mike" Curran is retiring?
* Will an African-American finally be elected to the council from the district that has undergone a gradual racial change and now has a majority of black voters?
The answer to the first question seems to be "yes," regardless of how Robert W. Curran, a brother of the retiring councilman and of Maryland's attorney general, does in the election. Councilman Martin O'Malley, after all, also is a Curran (by marriage) and only an unforeseen upset would prevent his re-election.
The answer to the second question is less clear. In elections over the past two decades, the African-American community has repeatedly failed to unite behind one or two candidates. This has led to defeats in elections that have always been characterized by strong incumbents and a crowded field.
Of the three main African-American candidates, we endorse Nina Harper, who won a seat on the Democratic State Central Committee last year. The AT&T; technical consultant's work in her Belair-Edison neighborhood to promote home ownership would bring strengths the council could use.
When he first ran for the council four years ago -- after narrowly losing a bid for the state Senate -- we were worried that Mr. O'Malley would use the council only as a stepping stone.
He still may do that. But he wisely controlled his considerable ambition and took the time to become an outstanding council member, initiating legislation that provides tax credits for city residents who improve their properties and semi-annual property tax payments for new homebuyers. Mr. O'Malley also has taken his oversight role seriously.
For the third seat we endorse Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, even though he has been a disappointment. Four years ago, he promised to be an "independent voice" of the electorate, then quickly -- and uncritically -- fell into lockstep with the Schmoke administration. Mr. Cunningham is a man of considerable gifts. We want the "old" Bill Cunningham back.
Unlike some other areas of the city, the Third District has a surplus of good candidates: Joan Carter Conway, Bobby Curran, Michael Vernon Dobson. Voters can hardly go wrong in exercising their civic duty.
We endorse Nina Harper and Councilmen Martin O'Malley and Wilbur Cunningham in the conviction they can best serve the diversity and interests of the district.