Why Schmoke's classmates elected to skip mayoral run

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's not an exaggeration to say that this year's field of mayoral candidates for Baltimore is a mile wide and an inch deep. When 27 candidates filed for the office, Baltimoreans were left pondering why so many unknowns were competing for such a prestigious position, which traditionally had been sought by experienced, polished public officials.

Where are the visionaries? The great orators? The policy wonks eager to attack the bureaucracy?

In 1967, Kurt L. Schmoke graduated from the city's premier high school, City College, and went on to Yale, Harvard, Oxford and the mayor's office. But what about the 965 other graduates that year? Where are the other leaders?

We asked seven of those graduates to reflect on the idea of a life dedicated to public service, and why they did or didn't pursue it.

Here are their responses:

'You had to compromise'

I had originally planned to go into politics; I was a political science major in college. I worked in Congress as an aide to former Rep. Parren Mitchell and I saw firsthand how things get done. It was disheartening -- deals were made that were not the original idea. You had to compromise to get things through; politics has gotten worse rather than better, especially locally.

Now, people who can't do anything else are running for office. Who wants their life turned upside down? You're unappreciated, the income is low. People can make better choices with their lives. Kurt Schmoke, as a Yale and Harvard grad, could have made more money with less criticism.

Michael Olander Ramsey

Randallstown

Occupation: Lawyer

High school activities: Student government

'You dance to other people's tunes'

People want to have a say in what they do. They want to direct their own lives. In politics you dance to other people's tunes. You don't have your own power; you are a conduit of power. You're caught in the middle. Politicians are by no means altruists -- they go into it for power and ego.

People who are skilled [in a particular profession] don't go into politics because it takes years, and they don't want to go into public service because they lack control. People above you control the policy. Also, look at personal compensation -- it's abysmally low -- you're not getting the cream of the crop because of the pay. I still find a way to give back, though. I teach children chess to help develop their mathematical and thinking skills. City College teachers did impress on me the importance of public service.

Derrick Lee Ames

Baton Rouge, La.

Occupation: Physician

High school activities: Chess, biology and math clubs

'I was burned out'

I was 32 when I went into politics. I had just gotten fired as a reporter for Channel 2. I looked around and saw that the area that I lived in was represented well enough in the state legislature, but there were no black representatives. So I ran because because I had a good chance to make changes and for ego reasons. You know, people see a wrong and want to make a right. I was in the state legislature for 12 years. I ran for the state Senate and lost. I was burned out in the House. The issues don't change: taxes, tax breaks, longer sentences for crimes.

I felt good about things I did while in the legislature such as helping minority businesses, funding schools correctly. But as you get older you get more conservative and take on responsibilities -- financially I couldn't afford to remain in the House. Today, my public service involves working on the school improvement team at City College and I'm chairman of the Northwoods Baseball League, which has 700 Little Leagers.

Curtis Stovall Anderson

Baltimore

Occupation: Criminal defense lawyer

High school activities: Student government, chess club, football, track

'A wonderful profession'

When I graduated from high school, I had a family and I got married and I went to school at night to finish. I had other responsibilities that prohibited me from going into politics.

I think it's a wonderful profession if you can do it -- politics makes the world go round. If you're active, you can make a difference in your community. I became more politically aware as I got older.

Ronald George Covington

Jacksonville, Fla.

Occupation: Market manager, CSX Transportation

High school activities: Student government

'Antipathy toward government service'

After I graduated from City College, I worked in the Social Security Administration in San Francisco. My job was to take papers from the computer run and put one sheet from pile A onto pile B. I finished early most days and was then told by my supervisor to undo the piles and start over because otherwise his supervisors would figure out they didn't need the staff and they would have to get rid of people. Hence my antipathy toward government service.

I thought about [getting involved in] politics from time to time, but campaign financing is so corrupt. We now have the best Congress money can buy, and I'm not interested in being bought.

Victor Charles Strasburger

Albuquerque, N.M.

Occupation: Physician

High school activities: Honor society, yearbook editor, student government

'Disillusioned with public service'

The '60s social revolution prompted me to go into public serivce. At Harvard, we were taught that as a priviledged elite, we had a mission: We were expected to give back to society. But later I became disillusioned with public service after working for three months in the U.S. Treasury Department. I was on staff, so when senators or congressmen snapped their fingers we moved -- mostly performing economic and financial research. I couldn't find much gratification out of this work -- and I wanted to see the fruits of my efforts. I see how things have gone since then. I don't think it's much different now in government work.

I would not advise young people to go into government. You have to be able to support yourself. Government service doesn't pay well. That's why it's difficult to attract high-quality people.

Robert Marc Wilkis

New York City

Occupation: Financier

High school activities: Honor society, student government, track, debate club

'I liked ... politics'

I was active in a variety of causes throughout high school, including anti-war activities, civil rights demonstrations. Later, I became active in neighborhood issues in Northeast Baltimore and then I was elected to the City Council in 1986. I liked the give and take of city politics and I like to impact people's lives positively.

I lost my bid for re-election to City Council, ending my political career in 1996. But later, I became economic development coordinator for the city, continuing the work I had been doing.

Wilber "Bill" Edwin Cunningham

Baltimore

Occupation: Vice president for development, Living Classrooms Foundation

High school activities: Student government

Researcher Andrea Wilson compiled this report.

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