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City's myriad problems beg for skilled mayor Schmoke's successor will have to tackle daunting array of chores


Wanted: Big-city mayor to lead shrinking postindustrial metropolis into the new millennium. Management experience, common touch and dynamic personality a plus. Must enjoy challenges such as dealing with violent crime, troubled schools and chronic unemployment on a stagnant budget.

This, the first open want ad for a Baltimore mayor in almost 30 years, was signed, sealed and delivered last week when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced plans to forgo next year's mayoral race and call it quits after three four-year terms.

The race opened up further yesterday when Kweisi Mfume, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, announced that he would not be a candidate. Mfume had been considered a likely front-runner.

Everyone -- from Schmoke to business owners, to residents on the street -- has stepped to the plate with notions about what skills job applicants will need.

In fact, the hullabaloo surrounding Schmoke's announcement and the anticipation of what promises to be one of the most exciting mayoral races in years are telling. It appears that after years of taking a back seat in the nation's political arena, the job of big-city mayor is making a comeback.

Success stories -- New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has renewed his city -- and flamboyant city leaders, such as San Francisco's Willie Brown, have helped turn the spotlight back on position that faded through the 1980s as cities -- particularly blue-collar towns like Baltimore -- struggled with job loss, middle-class flight and withering federal support.

Whatever his or her qualifications, Baltimore's next leader will have to be dynamic enough to sustain the city's rising tourism industry and overcome the burdens of a swelling poor population and drug-induced crime that have keep the city near the back of the metropolitan pack.

Challenges to Baltimore's next mayor include finding solutions to stem 300 murders a year, uplifting one out of four city residents living in poverty, halting the exodus of 1,000 citizens leaving each month and increasing job opportunities for a citizenry unemployed at close to double the national average.

"I don't know how else to say it," said the Rev. Douglas Miles, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. "The person will have to have the ability to kick butt and an ability to bring various segments of the community together."

In the last 27 years, Baltimore voters have selected two men with polar opposite approaches to managing their city.

William Donald Schaefer, the longest consecutive serving mayor city history, inaugurated in 1971, was known for his "do it now" dynamics. Schmoke, the fourth-longest-serving city mayor, came off as the kinder, gentler leader.

Cookie Carroll knows what kind of mayor she wants the city to elect. "We are going into the new millennium, and we need someone who is aggressive," said the Lexington Street Market jewelry vendor. "It's time for a change."

Other qualities candidates may need include:

An ability to get along with others. Over the past 50 years, the city has lost about 300,000 residents, with most skipping to the surrounding counties. Baltimore's next mayor will need to be able to work with regional business and government leaders, such as the Greater Baltimore Alliance and Greater Baltimore Committee, to handle issues such as housing, poverty and transportation, critical to jobs.

Because the city gets 40 cents of every dollar spent from the federal and state governments, contacts at those levels also will serve well.

Schmoke said the relationship with the city business community will also be critical to the city's next mayor as Baltimore pursues a $350 million expansion of the west side of downtown. "It was very clear to me early on that I could win elections without the support of the business community, but I couldn't govern without the business community," he said.

A love of people. Of all the positions he held -- including governor and City Council president -- Schaefer said in a recent interview that he loved being mayor most. Schaefer thrilled at tossing himself into a crowd or going door-to-door talking with residents, actions that scored points with the electorate while frustrating his security detail.

Schmoke, on the other hand, was considered cerebral and shy, uncomfortable with the limelight.

"Schaefer was one extreme and Mayor Schmoke was another," said Sally Michel, a city civic leader. "I think we could use a little more rah-rah."

Financial acumen. Although Baltimore survived a 1990 recession that crippled neighboring cities Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., city finance leaders anticipate a $25 million budget deficit within two years.

Schmoke was credited with being able to obtain aid from non-profit groups and civic-minded business leaders in keeping the city afloat.

"You can't do it by yourself; you have to partner both with the neighborhoods and the business community," Schmoke said. "It is very clear, given our financial situation, that the person who follows me must continue that partnership relationship."

A thick skin. As in most American cities, Baltimore has a full platoon of media attending the mayor's weekly City Hall press conferences.

Schaefer was famous for the "nastygrams" he sent to reporters whose articles he disliked.

Schmoke tells the tale of how his mother moved back to Baltimore from the Midwest, where during his first term, she read glowing reports of her son in national publications, such as USA Today. After reading accounts of his work in the local media, the mayor's mother remarked: "You were a better mayor when I lived in Chicago."

An ability to handle pressure. The legendary description of what it's like to be Baltimore mayor was best given by Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro, who served the city from 1947 to 1959. In an article that appeared in Atlantic magazine, D'Alesandro described how he sat in his ornate City Hall mayoral quarters every afternoon waiting for an aide to bring him a dome-covered gold tray.

D'Alesandro would lift the dome to look down upon a platter of -- for lack of a better word -- grief. Once he dealt with that plate, another aide was waiting to bring in a second plate of woes.

In retelling the account recently, Schmoke laughed heartily at the observation.

"And that's what it's like to be mayor," he said.

Pub Date: 12/06/98

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