Santoni, Brown picked to pep up City Council; Endorsements: GOP challengers offer new ideas, better representation in 18-member legislative body.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WiTH ITS 18 members -- plus a separately elected president -- Baltimore's City Council is an ordinary citizen's most direct link to municipal government. While the most important duties of the council concern fiscal, legislative and oversight matters, many taxpayers know their council representatives only as the persons to contact for filling potholes, planting trees or taking care of rodent and trash problems.

Under the new mayor, the next council could play a bigger leadership role than during Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 12-year administration. That's why it needs more vigor. The city cannot afford to have a council of timeservers.

Because of vacancies, the next council will automatically have at least four new members. It could have two more -- if voters give Republicans ROBERT N. SANTONI SR. and JOSEPH BROWN JR. a chance to serve the 1st and 6th districts, respectively.

Baltimoreans, who tend to be overwhelmingly Democratic, have done themselves a grave disservice in not electing any Republicans to the City Council since 1939. No qualified candidate -- or good ideas -- should be rejected solely because of a party label.

Of course, Republicans themselves bear a big responsibility for their lack of electoral success. Far too often their candidates have started late and without sufficient name recognition. They, too, have conducted bland campaigns without focused programs, organization, volunteers and money.

That alone would justify special attention to Mr. Santoni and Mr. Brown. They have brought to their campaigns a rare sophistication that includes polling voter sentiments and employing paid campaign managers.

But they also are outstanding candidates with proven commitment to their communities.

In the 1st District, which runs from Harford Road to the Canton waterfront and then follows the shoreline to include South Baltimore, Mr. Santoni has led efforts to redevelop the abandoned Esskay meat packing plant.

The owner of a family supermarket, he has also campaigned tirelessly for commercial revitalization along Eastern Avenue, working closely and without partisan rancor with state Sen. Perry Sfikas and Del. Carolyn J. Krysiak, both Democrats. As a result of this wide-ranging community effort, the plan to turn vacant Eastern Avenue landmarks into profitable use is moving forward.

Strangely, the district's three Democratic incumbents have paid scant attention to this important initiative. Because of their otherwise competent council work, we have no trouble endorsing LOIS GAREY and JOHN L. CAIN for re-election. However, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. tends to act on emotion, rather than reason. Voters would be prudent to support Mr. Santoni instead.

In the 6th District, Mr. Brown, a bank manager, has established his community credentials as the chairman of the federally funded Washington Village/Pigtown empowerment zone. That has been a difficult job, requiring coalition building and mediation skills.

The three Democratic incumbents have been disappointments. None has established a districtwide presence, even though the 6th includes many city neighborhoods with the most pressing problems. Particularly galling has been the failure of Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr. to exercise his leadership role. An example: He's one of the City Council's two representatives to the board of the Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc. but has seldom bothered to attend board meetings. Voters in the 6th District should instead support Mr. Brown.

Republicans have two more candidates running in the 6th. But neither Joe Tebo Jr. nor Anthony F. Forlenza has produced a viable campaign. For that reason, we are forced to choose incumbents EDWARD L. REISINGER and MELVIN L. STUKES, who should work more purposefully if re-elected.

In the 2nd District, The Sun recommends incumbent Democrat BERNARD C. "JACK" YOUNG, whose attention to the concerns of his district has been commendable. Democratic primary winner BEA GADDY, whose work with the homeless and hungry is synonymous with civic commitment in Baltimore, also deserves election. Ms. Gaddy has displayed far more compassion for her constituents than virtually any incumbent council member.

Her task will be to translate the lessons of this activism into progressive policy.

Only reluctantly do we support PAULA JOHNSON BRANCH, an incumbent whose claim to public office rests heavily on her association with powerful East Side Democrats.

If her party associations are of any value to 2nd District voters, however, now might be the time for Ms. Branch to demonstrate clearly what that value is.

Though the 2nd District offered a splendid opportunity, Republicans failed to produce challengers who could make a compelling case for endorsement over any of the Democrats. This district in particular seems fertile ground for the GOP to show it can be a counterforce in city politics. Lack of competition does nothing for party building and is certainly not a spur to the best representation by the majority party.

In the 3rd District, we endorse incumbent ROBERT W. "BOBBY" CURRAN and newcomers KENNETH N. HARRIS SR., president of the Glen Oaks Improvement Association, and LISA JOI STANCIL, an attorney. These three Democratic candidates would give the 3rd an enviable mixture of youth and experience. Mr. Curran's Democratic Party connections, flexed effectively in the past, and the newcomers' fresh look at council affairs could be a tonic to a sometimes sleepy body.

In the 4th District, newcomer CATHERINE E. PUGH wins our endorsement. She has been angling for elective office for the past 20 years; now she has to prove that her considerable ambition also produces results for her West Baltimore district.

Our other endorsements go to AGNES WELCH, who is approaching the end of a dedicated political career, and KEIFFER J. MITCHELL JR., who has demonstrated promise and substance.

In the 5th District, The Sun selects the three incumbent Democrats -- because they have turned in a solid if not spectacular performance and because the Republican challengers need more seasoning and involvement in community affairs. Councilwoman STEPHANIE C. RAWLINGS, after a less assertive start than we had hoped, may be ready to assume more leadership. We expect HELEN L. HOLTON to turn in another workmanlike term.

And council veteran ROCHELLE RIKKI SPECTOR has the experience and perspective to give newcomers the guidance they will need.

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