Baltimore's Cliffhanger Election


Does every vote count?

Ask Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who launched his political career bwinning a primary election to the Baltimore City Council by three votes.

Or ask Parris N. Glendening and Ellen Sauerbrey. Both sat inerve-wracking suspense for weeks before he was declared the victor in Maryland's gubernatorial election last year.

By all accounts, Baltimore's municipal primary tomorrow will be cliffhanger. Indeed, the primary is unusual in that two of the top three citywide incumbents are not running for reelection and all three offices are being ferociously contested.

The mayoral duel between the incumbent Kurt L. Schmoke anMary Pat Clarke is closer than anyone expected. The City Council president race among Lawrence Bell, Joseph DiBlasi, Vera Hall and Carl Stokes has no clear front-runner. The fight between Julian Lapides and Joan Pratt for the city comptroller's office is a toss-up.

Although Baltimore has seen nothing but Democratic City Halrule for decades, three Republican candidates are working to get their party's nomination for mayor.

Add to this some tight Democratic races in the city's six councidistricts and it is clear that tomorrow's primary may go down as an election that produced many surprising upsets.

Baltimore City politics has undergone quite a change in recendecades. Gone are old-line political machines. They have been replaced by non-partisan community organizations and some "reform" political clubs. But more than ever before, those clubs and their membership seem to be divided this year.

The primary election's outcome may largely depend on voter turnout -- and weather. It is a sad historical fact that many Baltimoreans are fair-weather voters.

Like other aging American cities, Baltimore has gone througtough times recently. An exodus of the middle-class has caused a hemorrhage in the city's tax base. Jobs have been lost by the tens of thousands. Violence and a fear of crime are part of many residents' everyday reality.

Virtually all Baltimoreans express strong and vocal opinions about their city's current circumstances and its future prospects. But when a chance is given for them to affect the city's governance by voting, they often don't exercise what is a right, a privilege -- and a responsibility.

This year's primary is so unpredictable that all registered Baltimoreans should make voting their top priority on Tuesday. It is an obligation of citizenship, and a chance to get involved in picking the next group of city leaders.

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