WITH candidates for mayor lining up, it's time to be honest with ourselves: No community sinks or swims simply because of the quality of its elected officials.
However, a good mayor can help a city play to its greatest potential, prod it forward, keep it energized. Conversely, an ineffective mayor can passively allow a city to drift, investing its resources and imagination in things that are unlikely to help the city advance.
When Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a Harvard and Yale man, was elected in 1987, many voters thought they had found a knight in shining armor who would build and expand on former Mayor William Donald Schaefer's legacy, shoring up the weaknesses evident from social disintegration.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. Mr. Schmoke is nice and well-spoken. Those are good attributes for many things, but not enough for running a city.
Despite the many positive things going on in Baltimore, far too many people continue to see it as a place to leave.
Even with the explosive growth in Canton, the strengthening of Hampden and the efforts in Charles Village, the exodus of residents continues.
Baltimore is a beautiful, livable city. Though its manufacturing industries have faded, we must remember that being a great place to live remains an invaluable asset.
Of course, in the digital age, it's less important to live close to your job since information can be accessed from almost anywhere. But people still want to live where there is an uplifting ambience.
That's where Baltimore has an advantage over many other places. It has an outstanding symphony, art museums, excellent universities and historic architecture. It's close to the ZTC Chesapeake Bay and has some of the most affordable housing on the East Coast.
But to help sell the city, we need to improve our public schools, keep the streets clean and increase safety.
To do the job, we need a mayor who can make improving our great assets a priority. Also, we need leadership that can command the attention of business leaders around the world.
We need a mayor whose very presence tells the new entrepreneurs that Baltimore will be a key city in the next millennium. That takes much more work and planning than attracting a Planet Hollywood restaurant, which is nice but doesn't warrant the population to rally around it as a sign of rebirth.
Is there a mayoral candidate who can command the respect required to assemble a team that can execute such a 21st-century plan? Is there someone who will not need a years-long learning curve to make things happen? Is there someone who is known and respected in the corridors of power and comfortable on our streets and in our neighborhoods?
Among the crop of mayoral candidates -- even absent NAACP President Kweisi Mfume -- are people who are up to the task.
It is their job to show that potential, and it's our job to demand it of them. In the end, we will get the mayor we deserve. Let us pray it is the mayor that we need.
Wally Orlinsky was Baltimore City Council president from 1971 to 1979.
Pub Date: 12/16/98