Council races attract promising newcomers; Election '99: Members with energy, vision needed if City Council is to be rebuilt for the 21st Century.


IF BALTIMOREANS want a neighborhood-by-neighborhood renaissance and a smooth-running city government, they must retool and rebuild the 18-member City Council. They must demand representatives with broader vision, impatient energy and disciplined professionalism.

Councils of the past have provided a vibrant forum for discussion of critical community concerns.

Recently, though, the council has been undistinguished, serving as a comfortable niche for too many men and women of little drive -- a place to collect the $37,000-a-year salary, to rack up retirement benefits -- to safely graze, as one former veteran of the body put it.

The city cannot afford to have a council of timeservers.

In the past, some of Baltimore's most successful public and private figures have come from the council. Honored graduates include four mayors -- William Donald Schaefer, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, Philip H. Goodman and Clarence H. "Du" Burns; a governor (Mr. Schaefer); a U.S. senator (Barbara A. Mikulski); and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP's president). It has also produced judges, able state legislators and distinguished businessmen, including Henry G. Parks, the late sausage baron, to Peter G. Angelos, the lawyer and Orioles principal owner.

Voters should remember that such talent exists among the field of candidates running for council this year, as well.

Here are The Sun's recommendations:

1st District: Democratic incumbents LOIS GAREY and JOHN L. CAIN have served this geographically vast and diverse district well. They have taken unpopular stands on difficult issues and deserve renomination.

The third incumbent, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., tends to act on emotion, rather than reason. He is totally against tax abatements for builders, a shortsighted stand that would deprive the city of an important economic development tool. Similarly, he opposed a plan to revitalize the west side of downtown because he thought tax money should not be spent.

JAMES "WARD" MORROW, an assistant state's attorney and vice president of the South East Community Organization, is a more enlightened choice. His expertise and interest in housing and safety issues would be a tremendous plus on the council.

He has our support.

The Democratic nominees will face GOP candidates in November.

2nd District: Incumbent Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch has been an disappointment because of her inattention to council business. From an array of attractive Democratic challengers, we recommend ANDRE R. WEITZMAN, the consumer lawyer who is fighting for hapless homebuyers taken advantage of by real estate speculators in the Patterson Park neighborhood.

Second District Democrats should also nominate MARK WASHINGTON, a thoughtful and passionate opponent of old-school political thinking. He offers the sort of fresh ideas the council needs: He wants to raise the age at which a student could decide to leave school from 16 to 18 and to impose a surcharge on the sale of guns and ammunition in an effort to limit availability.

Incumbent Councilman BERNARD C. "JACK" YOUNG deserves renomination. He has given tireless attention to neighborhood concerns.

3rd District: This changing northeast area, still dominated by the Curran family political organization, has produced a number of promising candidates.

We recommend LINDA CUNNINGHAM JANEY, whose service on the city school board is just one of her many contributions. Ms. Janey is a lawyer and planner who works for the Maryland Office of Planning.

Her informed and thoughtful approach is sorely needed as the council grapples with ways to reshape a city built for nearly a million people to address the needs of its much-declined population.

Alarming expanses of vacant rowhouses -- malignant anchors in struggling neighborhoods -- must be dealt with in orderly fashion.

A Councilwoman Janey could help.

The Sun also endorses the candidacy of political newcomer KENNETH HARRIS SR., president of the Glen Oaks Improvement Association, who has the potential to grow and prosper in politics.

Our third choice is incumbent ROBERT W. "BOBBY" CURRAN, a man of valuable connections who is effective at constituent service.

4th District: Fourteen Democrats are fighting for the three nominations, but only four deserve serious consideration: Incumbents AGNES WELCH and KEIFFER J. MITCHELL JR. plus challengers JULIAN J. THOMAS JR. and Catherine E. Pugh.

This is likely to be the last hurrah for Ms. Welch, who is seeking her fifth term. The council is her life, and she devotes long hours to her work. As the chairwoman of the city's Democratic Central Committee, she does not rock the boat, as her staunch support of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke shows. We see her as a stabilizing force on a council that will lose many experienced members.

Mr. Mitchell, scion of a political dynasty, has proved an asset. He has tremendous promise and deserves renomination.

The choice between Mr. Thomas, who lost narrowly four years ago, and Ms. Pugh was a tough one. In the end, Mr. Thomas' energetic work for his community association and the Leakin Park greenway decided the matter in his favor.

5th District: Only in this western and north-central district does The Sun recommend standing pat. Led by veteran Councilwoman ROCHELLE RIKKI SPECTOR, this delegation offers seasoned and reliable representation -- so strong that few challengers of merit presented themselves.

We are confident also in first-term member STEPHANIE C. RAWLINGS. If she is to reach her potential, though, she needs to become a more assertive presence. First-term Councilwoman HELEN L. HOLTON also merits re-election.

The Sun was impressed with the ideas and activities of Patrick J. Burns, a real estate agent and stock trader, who has shown an admirable devotion to his Westgate neighborhood.

6th District: It is good that the district's incumbent Democrats will face a vigorous Republican challenge in the November general election because the performance of Councilmen Norman A. Handy Sr., EDWARD L. REISINGER and MELVIN L. STUKES has been disappointing.

The failure of Mr. Handy, a Methodist clergyman, to do his job with more vigor is particularly galling because he had so much promise. To replace him, we recommend FRANCIS J. SMIDT JR., a licensed practical nurse.

Mr. Smidt lives in the heart of a rapidly declining, drug-infested neighborhood, where his family's house -- worth about $30,000 just 10 years ago -- could be expected to fetch $6,000 today.

He is angry about inadequate policing and other lacking city services that encourage longtime residents to flee. He is convinced that the situation can be improved only if businesses can be attracted to the district and begin demanding services.

In the Republican primary, our picks are JOSEPH BROWN JR., a bank manager; ANTHONY F. FORLENZA, who has served on the party's central committee; and JOE TEBO JR., a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. employee and Arbutus volunteer firefighter.

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